Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fred and Ginger and Annie Bates

By Shane Gericke

Unlike thrillers featuring one main protagonist, I have the luxury of a large ensemble of main characters. Six, to be exact, all cops, each of whom has a strong personality and a deep, abiding affection for the others. So I could easily spin a few into their own books or series.

The one I'd want to spin the most is Annabelle "Annie" Bates.

Annie works for the police department in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, where I set my cops-vs.-serial killers crime series. She's the lieutenant who commands the SWAT team. It's not a desk job--she goes into the field each and every time the team is activated. As such, she has to be a near-perfect shot with pistol, assault weapon, and sniper rifle. She must scale walls and cross floods with ease. She must keep her head while all about her are losing theirs. She has to raid anything from a biker bar to a terrorist-infested high school on a moment's notice, killing all the bad guys while saving all the innocents. She must be able to haul herself up the side of one building then rappel down another, fit in tight spaces like sewer pipes and ventilation shafts, lift hundreds of pounds of dead weight, perform emergency battlefield medicine, run fast for miles at a stretch, know electrical, mechanical and alarm systems, and blend seamlessly into her surroundings, daring to not even twitch her nose lest the madman notice.

Because she's female, she also must do everything better than the men in her command. It's just like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Fred got the lion's share of the applause for his amazing dancing ability. But Ginger did everything Fred did, except backwards while wearing high heels.

Tis a sexist world we still live in. That goes triple for the testosterone-drenched world of real police. Female cops, particularly those at SWAT level, must prove themselves over and over and over again, when the men must show their stuff but once to be accepted by the pack.

But that's the reality of Annie's world, and she does her job with aplomb and distinction. Her troops deeply respect her, because she's smart and tough and fearless and doesn't ask them to do anything she hasn't already done herself. She also is an U.S. Army sniper instructor who's been blooded in Iraq and Afghanistan, which earns her "been there, done that" reverence from her people.

That's especially cool because at just over five feet high and blessed with puppy-dog eyes and the cutest little head of blonde ringlets, she doesn't look the stereotypical cop. She is feminine, believing that being tough doesn't preclude nice clothes and tasteful makeup. She dotes on her husband, a college English professor, and her two daughters, one in junior high, one in grade school.

In other words, they're a typical middle-class family, except that Dad gives Mom machine guns for Christmas. (That Tommy gun of Annie's saves quite a few lives in Cut to the Bone.)

As the best friend and colleague of my series hero, Naperville Police Detective Emily Thompson, Annie is a presence in my first two books, Blown Away and Cut to the Bone. But she and her family come to the head of the class in my upcoming third book, which will be released in July 2010. They are key and central to the story.

So even if I never spin her off into her own series, Annie is as necessary to the telling of my tales as food, water and air.

Which is what every character hopes to be: needed.

Just like us.

I'll be at Bouchercon, the world's largest gathering of mystery fans and authors, this Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Indianapolis. On Saturday, I'll be on a panel of authors discussing Chicago's influence on the world of mysteries and thrillers--and at the end, we'll give away a Tommy gun. (Actually, it's premium vodka in a bottle shaped like Tommy gun, which is even better. And doesn't risk the wrath of the federal gun police.) Stop by our panel and maybe you'll win! Hope to see you there.


Jen Forbus said...

Go Annie! Three cheers for those strong females!!

I had intended to come to your panel, Shane, until I found out I won the Hot Ticket for Michael Connelly - it's the same time. But I'm going to be hunting you down so I can say "hi" and you can sign my copy of BLOWN AWAY! :) I'll be coming in Friday morning. See you next week!

Bobby Mangahas said...

Good luck with your panel Shane. Be sure you and the other CM's have a drink (or several) for me. ;-)

Shane Gericke said...

Hey, Jen, I'd go to Michael Connelly too if I had the choice between me and him ... so have a great time. See you in the hallways!

And RJ, I'll happily take you up on that request. Here's to ya!

Jen Forbus said...

Awww Shane, I don't want you to think I'm picking MC over you at all. Had you been on the Hot Ticket list, I'd have been writing my little essay for you! I'm looking just as forward if not more to meeting you - and that's the honest truth! :)

Shane Gericke said...

They'd have to create a Warm List for me, Jen :-) But we'll definitely hook up. I also have settled on my six-worder, and hope to get that to you before Bcon. No promises, though, lots of things to do before then!