Figure constellation

Figure constellation

Constellations of characters in crime stories

Up to now, in crime stories we have mainly spoken of a possible main character. However, in many crime novels there is a double team or a team of investigators. In “The Mentalist” the main character is the consultant Patrick Jane. He’s on the team of CBI Agent Teresa Lisbon. Lisbon and Jane represent a duo within a small team of CBI agents. So in “The Mentalist” there is one main character, a duo and a small team – all within a single series.

“The Persuaders!” (1970-1971) are a lord and an oil millionaire who solve cases. And in “Sherlock Holmes” it is a detective and a doctor who investigate. So there are many possible constellations in crime stories. Ultimately, all possible variations can be reduced to three figure constellations: the individual investigator, who is more or less a loner, a “duo” and a “team of investigators”.

Let us first consider the loner among the investigator characters. You must know Inspector Columbo or Inspector Maigret? All main crime scene characters have an assistant or a team behind them, but most of them investigate alone, i.e. they are loners at work. A loner figure can mean a gain in calm and empathy for the crime plot. When there are several investigators, there is almost always more action and more conversation. Single investigators are usually thoughtful people who have a keen sense of observation and are good listeners. 

Another loner among the investigators is the British agent James Bond, who in some of his cases appears more like a classic investigator, as in “Casino Royale” (2006). Otherwise, the loner type is often associated with the detective, such as Philip Marlowe in the novels of Raymond Chandler.

With the investigator duo there are many possible relationship variants within the duo. A duo can consist of friends. Examples are the crime scene detectives “Rizzoli & Isles” (2010-2016). In “Person of Interest” (2011-2016), billionaire Harold Finch makes friends with his partner, former soldier John Reese.

But there are also investigators who do not like each other and have to work together. Investigator-enemies or rivals are the investigator-duo in “In the Heat of the Night” (1967). The main characteristic of investigator-enemies is a hierarchy that is not accepted by the subordinate. This results in hatred and enmity, but sometimes only an irritable climate.

Most investigator duos are neutral colleagues who value each other. It may also be that a relationship gradually develops from initially neutral colleagues. This can then be friendship, rivalry or romance.

There is another important constellation in the investigator duo: that of the mentor (trainer) and that of the learner. The first “Men in Black” film (1997), as well as the latest part “Men in Black: International” (2019), show how a newcomer learns and has to prove himself in a secret organisation from experienced agents.

An investigative team usually always has a clear leader. In “NCIS” (since 2003), it’s the close Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. In “The Mentalist” it’s the charismatic Terasa Lisbon, who sometimes gets into an argument with the consultant Patrick Jane.

Within a team of investigators, various emotional and dynamic (developing) relationship constellations can and should occur (as with the investigator duo): Friendship develops, love germinates, enmity fades, and so on… In series or novel series the relationships between the characters develop more slowly and over many episodes and seasons. In feature films, on the other hand, a complete development must take place within the length of the film.

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