There’s this guy—and it usually is a guy—who shows up in fiction from time to time that I call that irritating guy.
He’s not a constant, but he’s there enough that you recognize him when you see him. He’s not the bad guy, per se, but if you’re like me, there’s times you’d rather see him get it long before the bad guy does.
Irritating Guy and the protagonist do not get along, and usually it’s because of a personality clash.
For example: I just read a book called Dead and Not So Buried by John L. Conway. It’s billed as a Gideon Kincaid novel. Gideon is ex-LAPD, currently a PI, in Hollywood. He’s also divorced, and his ex is an LAPD detective. So naturally, when Gideon gets involved in a high profile case that ends up involving dead bodies, his ex is the cop who gets the case on the official side. To complicate things, she’s romantically involved with her partner, a guy named Irving Piccolo.
Piccolo is the Irritating Guy in the story. He hates Gideon, and Gideon’s not exactly ready to have an after work beer with Piccolo. Part of it’s the typical he’s-your-ex-husband-so-he’s-gotta-be-a-dick syndrome. It clouds Piccolo’s judgment, convinces him that Gideon is the one actually guilty of all this mayhem that’s going on. And, of course, Stacy, the ex, doesn’t exactly stand up for Gideon, even if she does try to hold Piccolo off sometimes.
In Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, at least in two or three of them, Irritating Guy is an Internal Affairs Division detective named Chastain. I think John was his first name, but that’s beside the point.
If you know anything about cops, you know the guys in IAD aren’t exactly on everybody else’s Christmas list. The one thing that’s not supposed to happen is cops betraying cops, and that’s how they all view IAD: traitors. They’re the ones who police the police, and naturally they’re resented.
Chastain becomes convinced that Harry is a rogue cop who goes around killing and gets away with because the assistant chief sticks up for him. Every chance he gets, he throws a monkey wrench in Harry’s investigations, tossing out theories that Harry is the true culprit, or at least is covering up for the true culprit. Of course, we know that’s not true.
Or do we?
See, there’s an open case in the LAPD that involves another Irritating Guy, Harry’s former lieutenant at Hollywood Division, “Ninety-eight” Pounds. Pounds was a paper pusher who also gave Harry hell because Harry isn’t always strictly by the book—and sticking exactly to the book is what matters to Pounds. He likes to throw his official weight around every chance he gets, and he especially likes to throw it in Harry’s direction.
Pounds ended up getting killed, and the case is open because they never found the killer. Harry knows who the killer is, but he can’t say because he was on suspension at the time and stole Pounds’s badge and used his name to investigate an old cold case. The bad guys thought Pounds was onto them and killed him. Harry knows it’s his fault, and he knows that he’d have to reveal that he did some illegal things at the time, so he keeps his mouth shut and lives with it.
Irritating Guy is that guy you love to hate. He doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever. I mean, we can get pissed at the antagonist, but we know we’re supposed to get pissed at him. That’s why he’s there.
But Irritating Guy…well, he’s a special case. There’s nothing good about him. He’s a jerk, and he usually doesn’t have the guts to be a real bad guy. He hides behind rules and regulations and finds ways to twist them to his own uses, all to make the protagonist’s life as difficult as possible. We don’t like Irritating Guy because he doesn’t like our hero, and if the story’s written right, we’re rooting for our hero, no matter what he does.
Harry Bosch does things that are illegal and unethical, all in the name of solving the case. On the redeeming side of that, he doesn’t care about the politics of a case. If you’re guilty, Harry doesn’t care if you’re a Hollywood celebrity, the mayor of LA, or even the president, he’ll nail you and call you guilty. The downside of that is he’s not above bending and/or breaking the rules to achieve that end.
The nice part is, he always pays a price for it, in the end, in one way or another. Harry’s personal life is a mess. He’s in his forties (at the point in the series where I’m at, anyway), and his one marriage is on the rocks before the first year is out. He’s not divorced yet, but he doesn’t know where his wife is, either, and he keeps hoping she’ll show up again, even as he faces reality and figures she probably won’t.
Anyway, I’d have to say a story doesn’t suffer for lack of an Irritating Guy, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have him in there, either. We’re supposed to torture our heroes. They have to suffer to achieve their goals, and having Irritating Guy there just adds to the whole idea. As if it’s not enough to have to put up with the stuff Sauron is doing, we have to suffer through Saruman’s machinations as well. And Saruman is really worse, in a way, because he used to be one of the good guys: the White Wizard, head of the Grey Council.
I haven’t put Irritating Guy in any of my stories yet, and maybe I should. Everybody around Lyle seems to like him, or at least tolerates him without complaint, and maybe that’s making things a bit too smooth for him. I’m not sure if I can work one into the current novel I’m working on. The characters are pretty much set for it, and it may be a little late to bring one onstage. But, with how I write, who knows what’ll happen?
So how about you? Do you like—so to speak—Irritating Guy? Or would you rather not see him in the story? Have you used Irritating Guy as a plot device? Or has he just not popped up yet, like with my stories?
Or am I being Irritating Guy by bringing him up?