It’s one thing to be asked for your favourite ten books… but your favourite ten characters? That’s not so simple, especially when you have to try and give reasons for your choices. Here’s my attempt at an answer – the fictional people who stuck out and stayed with me. They’re in no particular order, but each one of them meant something to me. Read on, and see if any of these would make it into your top ten…
Inspector Morse from "Last Seen Wearing" by Colin Dexter
It's tempting to think we know Morse from the TV series, but while I love John Thaw's version, the original written character is refreshingly different. In those first books Morse is a driven, seedy man, recklessly embracing one possible theory after another. He makes terrible mistakes, and seems a lot less assured than a heroic detective ought to, but therein lies so much of his charm. A brilliantly flawed man.
Gerald Tarrant from "The Coldfire Trilogy" by C.S. Friedman
There's something wonderfully unsettling about a charismatic villain, and Gerald Tarrant is the perfect example – simultaneously rational and evil, yet absolutely bound by a complex code of ethics that elevate him above being a mere monster. More than any other character, he helped to inspire my own serial killer, and his presence on the page is so compelling that it sends the morale compass spinning.
Biba Capel from "The Poison Tree" by Erin Kelly
Every so often, you meet a character who burns brighter than everyone around them. Biba Capel is the perfect example of this – a captivating young woman, a catalyst for chaos, her presence irrevocably changing the lives of everyone she encounters. As a reader, you find yourself drawn to her, just like the other characters in this story of destructive obsession, and the memory of her resonates long after the final page.
George Smiley from "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" by John le Carré
In many ways, Tinker Tailor is a crime novel, albeit one set in the shadowy world of the cold-war secret services. George Smiley takes on the role of the weary detective, patiently following the clues to uncover a high-ranking double agent. He's a quiet man, gripped by a profound sadness, yet even after retiring he finds himself unable to turn his back on the job that brought him so low. Tenacious, with a deeply buried passion that rarely surfaces, he exhibits extraordinary intelligence and insight about those around him, while remaining endearingly puzzled by his own life.
Arthur Dent from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams
There's something rather reassuring about Arthur Dent. Despite being catapulted through space and time, from one absurd situation to the next, he remains unalterably British, albeit a caricatured, 20th century British, that's fuelled by tea, understatement, and good manners. His resolute determination not to forsake this, even when Britain and the whole of the Earth are mistakenly demolished, is surely an upper-lip stiffener for us all.
Doctor Sheppard from "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" by Agatha Christie
A neighbour of the great Hercule Poirot, Doctor James Sheppard is one of the most perfectly written characters I've ever encountered. People often talk about unreliable narrators but, if you know the plot, you'll appreciate how terribly clever his personal telling of the story is. Also, he's such an engaging person to be in the company of – wonderfully witty and considerably more genial than his Belgian detective friend.
Silk from “The Belgariad” by David Eddings
I first read David Eddings’ epic fantasy series as a teenager, and even now, with a more mature eye, I still find a great joy in the books. The reason for their enduring appeal is the wonderful cast of characters, and the best of these has to be Silk. When we meet him, we see a rat-faced little man – a common thief and trickster – with roguish morals and wicked sense of humour. As time goes on, we discover that he is much, much more than this – a complex character, with unexpected depth and vulnerability – yet over the course of five books (ten, if you include Eddings’ subsequent series “The Mallorean”) his character never stops developing. There always seems to be more beneath the surface, and he’s so likeable that you can’t help but want to find out what it is.
Sebastian Flyte from "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited contains both one of my favourite characters, Sebastian Flyte, and also one of my least favourites, Charles Ryder. Although he is weak in many ways, Sebastian is wonderfully honest and entertaining, ultimately remaining true to himself despite the chaotic life he leads. His presence lights up the chapters that include him, providing a wonderful contrast to the more cynical Charles.
Miss Marple from "A Murder Is Announced" by Agatha Christie
I've always had a soft spot for Jane Marple, ever since I saw Joan Hickson's portrayal in the BBC series. Reading her as originally written, she's even better – a dignified, yet ruthless inquisitor who calmly uses her insight to lay mysteries bare. Save for occasional flashes of sharp, deadpan humour, there are few outward clues to the keen mind behind the shawl, but she certainly deserves the nickname bestowed by one of her acquaintances: "nemesis".
Frodo Baggins from "The Lord Of The Rings" by J R R TolkienOn the surface, Frodo may seem an odd choice, but he underpins so many of the key values in the book. At the start, he volunteers to do what is right, for the sake of others, no matter what the risk to himself. He continues his quest even when he is sure there is no hope of success or survival. After terrible suffering and wrongdoings, he still shows mercy, even sparing the evil Saruman, who has sought to destroy his home. Above all though, Frodo's character embodies Sacrifice. When speaking to his friend Sam, he says of their idyllic land, "It has been saved. But not for me," and he says it without regret. I absolutely love this quality – that one person would gladly give everything to protect a way of life for others.
This piece was originally written for The Festival Of Book Clubs.