In A Killing Winter, we are quickly introduced to our protagonist Leo, who is this flawed character scarred by his past. He’s lost his family due to a gambling addiction, he’s lost his home and has only just regained his footing, and he’s lost a friend, which is where this mystery begins.
There were many times in this novel where I started reflecting on whether Leo DesRoches was a tragic hero or simply flawed. I suppose the distinction is a minute one but to me a tragic hero is inherently bad and their actions bring the whole house of cards down upon their head whereas a flawed hero is a good guy with faults.
Leo certainly has his vices — a gambling addiction — and great faults, including robbing banks and killing someone. We’re lead to believe that the guy he killed was a bad, corrupt cop and that the robberies were all to support his gambling addiction. And since it’s a mystery and not a morality tale, these actions are presented as a backgrounder on Leo and not part of the disappearance and murder that Leo is trying to solve.
If we’re sticking to mysteries and detectives, Sherlock Holmes is a great example of a flawed hero. I cheer for him, even when he’s getting high and acting erratically. I want him to persevere. I want him to win. But with Leo, I’m not sure if I’m cheering for him or not.
Ian Weir: I certainly kept turning the pages, and there’s a lot here that I liked. But I have to admit that I found Leo frustrating. For me, he tended at times to cross the line from troubled to hapless, especially in terms of not managing to think things through. I love that he’s impulse-driven, but there are times when he just comes across as none too bright.
I’m wondering if the root of my problem has to do with the inevitable challenge involved in writing a sequel. In a sequel, you need to find a way to take the protagonist someplace new, without changing him in a fundamental way — which is really tricky. (I know. I’ve tried it.)
Trevor Battye: I may be alone here, but I really enjoyed how realistic the flawed the character was! I found the haplessness and not managing to think things through to be right on point with being impulsive. In the real world, being impulsive means you don’t think things through and that has consequences (mostly negative ones). I can’t stand to read a book where this is ignored, and the main character of a story “gets away with it” or takes on some super-human luck because he’s the hero.
So I’m definitely cheering for Leo but I expect him to lose. I cheer for him anyways and if he wins once and a while, like when he “gets the girl” I’m happy for him.
Julia Denholm: I just don’t care much for or about Leo.
Somehow — utterly improbably — he manages to attract the affections of the token semi-developed female character. Who is, of course, also an addict who slips part-way through the book and painlessly leaps back on the wagon. Sorry. I’ve lived too close to too many addicts to find much about their struggles terribly compelling. Maybe I’m just a heartless bitch, but I wanted to slap Leo upside the head.
Bev Wake: I agree with Julia. While I kept reading, I found the book very frustrating, primarily because of Leo. I just did not like his character nor did I find him remotely realistic. Initially, I thought this could be because I’m a journalist and I don’t believe anybody like him could possibly exist in a newsroom. I can’t even say he’s a reflection of all that could possibly be bad in the business, I just don’t find his existence in a newsroom plausible. And because I found him so unlikeable, unprofessional and unrealistic, I found myself distrusting other elements of the novel.
Our book club panel includes Ian Weir, author of the novel Daniel O’Thunder; Daphne Wood, the Vancouver Public Library’s director, planning and development; Julia Denholm, division chair, Humanities at Langara College; Monique Sherrett, principal at Boxcar Marketing and founder of somisguided. com; Trevor Battye, a partner in Clevers Media; Vancouver Sun books editor Tracy Sherlock; and Weekend Review editor Bev Wake.