Mystery Writing: Sidekicks

DS Dodds, sidekick to DCI McDonald

Sidekicks, the Sleuth’s Other Half

Sidekicks are a favorite trope of mystery writers. Generally, their role is to reflect the sleuth’s brilliance and to ask the audience’s questions. Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson is the classic example.

Sleuths and Sidekicks: Then and Now

As mystery evolved, the sleuth character developed. They now have backstories and wounds. Monk has deep emotional scars from his wife’s death layered upon his OCD and phobias. Longmire struggles with grief over his wife’s death and drinks way too much. And witness how Joe Leaphorn, who in the books was a just a stand-up cop, now in the television series is dealing with his grief over the death of a son who didn’t exist in the books and has become a tender husband to his also grieving wife.

And as the sleuth develops, so must the sidekick. One of the most fascinating sidekicks is DS Dodds in the British series, McDonald and Dodds, now available on Britbox. One curiosity about the television show is that BAFTA award winner Jason Watkins (Being Human, Blue Murder, Line of Duty, Call the Midwife, Agatha Christie’s Poirot – The Clocks, Midsomer Murders, The Crown) has top billing, but the show title and the accompanying graphics emphasize his character’s DCI, Lauren McDonald.

Inverting the Tropes

Yeah girl power! I’m all about it. McDonald is the brave heart. She makes the bold decisions. She’s James T. Kirk to Dodd’s Spock. Where she is intrepid, he hangs back. Where she is confidant, he knows he’s different.  Where she’s a rising star, he’s been sidelined in the office for years because he doesn’t quite fit in.

Historically, the sleuth is the brains of the operation: Sherlock, Miss Marple, Poirot, Monk, both DCI Barnabys. But in this show, it’s the sidekick who is the brains. Historically, if there was a female at all, she’s not the bravest of the pair. Take, for instance, both Sharona and Natalie in the TV series, Monk. Their job was to wear tight clothes, scream, tell Monk he shouldn’t do something, and hand him wipes. Kind of a sexy excitable mother figure. Creepy if you think about it.

I love Monk but I’m glad we’ve moved on.

More about McDonald and Dodds

McDonald and Dodds has a stellar list of guest stars including Freddie Fox, Joanna Scanlan, Alan Davies, Sian Phillips, and Paul McGann. The stories are fresh, if not testing the bounds of disbelief on occasion. I won’t get into that here because that would involve spoilers. But if you watch Midsomer Murders, plot holes are not a problem. It’s fiction, people! Just sit back and enjoy it.

Got a Favorite Sidekick? Do Share!

Readers and writers, share in comments: who is your favorite sidekick and why?


Keenan Powell


Keenan Powell is the Agatha, Lefty, and Silver Falchion nominated author of the Maeve Malloy Mystery series, Deadly Solution, Hemlock Needle, Hell and High Water.

While still in high school, she was one of the illustrators of the original Dungeons and Dragons. Art seemed an impractical pursuit – not an heiress, wouldn’t marry well, hated teaching – so she went to law school instead. When not writing or practicing law, Keenan can be found oil painting, studying the Irish language, or hanging out with her friends at mystery conventions.

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  1. Since I rarely watch TV, I haven’t seen either of those shows so I can’t comment. No surprise, I’m sure, my favorite sidekick is NYPD Detective PJ Parker who co-stars with NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli in the mystery series of that name.

    Interesting development. Though Parker started as the sidekick, the foil, for Corelli, in the most recent book she’s moved up to full partnership with her. Not what I intended but who am I to tell my characters how to behave?

  2. Yes in Mcdonald and Dodds I’m pretty sure she is the sidekick despite the title and picture that says otherwise. And I like him more in the most recent season than in season one. So the show is improving for me.

    You were right on the money with Monk’s sidekicks. Also the current trend for adding trauma. They even gave Poirot war trauma in the Malkovich version of Poirot.

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