Quirky Characters

What is it about Kinsey Millhone?

I didn’t realize how much I miss Kinsey Millhone until I saw the ad for dusting slippers on Facebook. Kinsey, the beloved protagonist in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series, lived in a garage apartment and was known to dust her way up the stairs with her socks on. Sometimes, it’s the little things about a character that make you love them. Like when they cut their hair with manicure scissors, another of Kinsey’s quirks.

The New York Times even took note of Kinsey’s odd love of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. While I do not share Kinsey’s taste in sandwiches, I adored her and her peculiar habits. I once had a chance to chat with Sue Grafton, whose annual addition to the series I still miss every year.  Kinsey had a little black dress made of a mystery fabric that didn’t wrinkle which she pulled out of her purse when the jeans she standardly wore didn’t fit the occasion. Grafton lamented that she had been unable to find such a dress in real life.

I have read and enjoyed every one of Sue Grafton’s books, but what I remember most about them are the minute details about Kinsey and how they reveal who she is.

Zany Ruth Zardo

            Talk about quirky, Ruth, Zardo the cranky and brilliant elderly poet in Louise Penny’s Gamache series, may take the prize. She routinely lifts books from the local Three Pines bookstore because she is convinced it’s a library. Ruth doesn’t hesitate to take gulps from other people’s cocktails or to tell them to “F-“ off, which brings us to her odd pet duck, Rosa, who repeatedly drops “F” bombs. Ruth is the author of a book of poetry, “I’m F.I.N.E.” meaning “F-”ed up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical. The incongruence between Ruth’s unfettered brainy zingers and her tender devotion to a duck may strain readers’ sense of reality, but somehow Louise Penny pulls it off. Ruth is a fan favorite.

Now what, Havers?

            Barbara Havers, the irreverent sidekick to the lordly Detective Inspector Lynley, may be the most lovable slob in mystery fiction. Havers loves fast food, which she seems to think means she must eat fast. The result is she often has globs of grease on her cheeky tee shirts. Her fashion statement often starts with uncombed hair and ends with red sneakers. Barb can’t seem to quite the smokes despite the urging from her boss at New Scotland Yard, who is also the 8th Earl of Ashton. Elizabeth George, creator and author of the Thomas Lynley series, has juxtaposed Haver’s working-class quirks against Lynley’s British upper-class breeding in a way that endears Havers to readers. Havers constantly steps out of line, rarely saying the right thing. Her job is often on the line, but her fans faithfully root for her because they have come to love her, quirks and all.

My Takeaway

            Why do I remember the small details about Kinsey, Ruth, and Barbara when I have trouble remembering the entire plot of a book I may have enjoyed? I think it’s because their creators have discovered that readers identify with a character who demonstrates the vulnerability that is universal in all humans. Readers relate to the characters as if they were friends or family and integrate them into their lives through the books that feature them and their antics.

            Who is your favorite quirky character and why?


  1. Enjoyed reading this, Ms. Dorsey! Oh, how I miss Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. Solid Gold! I’ll simply re-read!
    I am grateful and thank you for sharing the gift of your talents with us!

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