Recommendations for wounded yet likeable men in books.
November 25, 2009 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Book recommendations: Recently I have discovered that I really enjoy a certain type of flawed character in television shows. Think Gregory House on House or Dr. Cal Lightman on Lie to Me. Wounded inside with a tough smart exterior that push people away with sarcasm or slight jerkish behaviour. Help me find examples in literature so I can continue my current obsession when I shut the tv off.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining exactly the type of character that I like but that is the closest that I can get to. I've read a previous thread about bad but good characters but it just referred to tv shows.

Any recommendations? Or a way to better word what character type I'm actually looking for to help me search would also be helpful.
posted by beautifulcheese to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Not a book recommendation but have you watched Cracker? (must see in chronological order)
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:25 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by kylej at 10:33 AM on November 25, 2009

Oops, I just realized that you wanted books, sorry.
posted by kylej at 10:34 AM on November 25, 2009

I like to think of these characters as "broken." Sorry, I don't have any book suggestions though.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:34 AM on November 25, 2009

I Gotta Go is the epitome of what you're looking for.
Stations of the Tide is in the neighborhood.
posted by Zed at 10:36 AM on November 25, 2009

How about "I'm looking for the literary equivalent of a sarcastic, cynical jerk with a worn core of gold like "Dr. Perry Cox of TV's Scrubs"?
posted by 3FLryan at 10:37 AM on November 25, 2009

The archetypal book in this field is definitely Pride & Prejudice, with Mr. Darcy.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 10:38 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

These characters are all basically Sherlock Holmes, whether explicitly (House) or in spirit.
posted by Think_Long at 10:39 AM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre!
posted by Sassyfras at 10:40 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, came in here to say House's character is based on Sherlock Holmes. I think he fits the bill.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:40 AM on November 25, 2009

John Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell's novel, North and South. He's in the mold of Mr. Darcy but gruffer and less refined. There's a BBC adaptation of the book if you want to get a feel for the character first.
posted by anonymous78 at 10:46 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I guess I'm looking for Sherlock Holmes type characters then. Since I've read that entire series already. I've never actually read Pride and Prejudice ashamedly.

I have seen the entire Cracker series, and Bones (read the novels the tv show is based on as well) and Dr. Cox fits in as well (though more humorous than wanted).
posted by beautifulcheese at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2009

Best answer: Fletch.

You can also pick up Hugh Laurie's book, The Gun Seller, for sightly less literary wounded-yet-jerkish character.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:52 AM on November 25, 2009

Best answer: In line with your examples may be the Burke novels by Andrew Vachss. They are modern crime novels, with a distinct noir-ish flavor to them. Burke is a below-the-radar private investigator who specializes in using his familiarity with exceedingly deviant lifestyles in the urban underbelly to find and protect abused and victimized children. He is unorthodox and is guided only by his internal moral/ethical system. He is brilliant, but disturbed, wounded, and tortured. Which makes him good at what he does. People seek him out because they need him, not because they like him. He is disgusted by most of the people he encounters. All of this results in a character similar to those you describe liking. I'd start with Strega or Flood.

It's worth noting that Vachss is a child-protection investigator/case worker/lawyer in real life.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:00 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Julius Penrose in James Gould Cozzens' Pulitzer Prize-winning By Love Possessed.

The adjective I would select is "misanthropic", but YMMV.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:01 AM on November 25, 2009

Oh my God this is my favorite type of character EVER and I sort of collect them.

The ultimate manifestation of this particular type of anti-hero is Francis Crawford of Lymond, from Dorothy Dunnett's truly masterful historical fiction series, The Lymond Chronicles. If, however, you have just begun your love affair with this type of character, I wouldn't recommend starting with him, as he might actually be too much-- I can say that he is the only character that's ever made me throw a book across the room, scream and then burst into tears. He's got the classic dichotomy of being just-good-enough-as-a-person-to-make-you-expect-better, and then both disappointing you in the most heartbreaking fashion and surpassing your expectations in the most heartbreaking fashion.

As more introductory reading/watching, I would recommend:
-Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.
-Aloysius Pendergast from Douglas and Preston's mystery-thrilled Pendergast series.
-Malcom Reynolds from Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity.
-Lord Peter Wimsey from Dorothy L. Sayers' mystery series.
-Alec and Richard from Swordspoint.
-Dr. Cox from Scrubs.
-Eric from True Blood.
-Flashman from Fraser's Flashman series.
-TE Lawrence, both in real life and in Peter O'Toole's excellent portrayal of him.
-Emilio Sandoz, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow.
-V in (the movie version of) V for Vendetta.
-Crowley from Good Omens.
-Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There have got to be tons more I'm not thinking of, I've been fascinated with this type of character since I was about twelve. Many of the characters listed above are variations on a theme: Pendergast, for instance, is generally noble and courageous, and it's his cold distance and mysterious air that make him fit the mold, whereas Flashman is always a coward but strangely likeable. Many of them start out in different places as well: Spike is a villain who slowly evolves humanity, and Emilio Sandoz begins as a hero and is "broken" over the course of the story. But I think-- I hope!-- you'll find all of them satisfactory. I may be back if I think of more.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:07 AM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I also came on to say Mr. Rochester. But reading the thread, one wonders why this type is completely male? Why no flawed, broken, angry but still appealing Jane Eyres? Are they all in the attic??
posted by fullofragerie at 11:17 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I can't believe I forgot Inspector Morse. Either the books or the British TV show.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:18 AM on November 25, 2009

There are tons of these in detective fiction. Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus springs to mind.
posted by Kattullus at 11:20 AM on November 25, 2009

fullofragerie - actually I was going to suggest Jordan Cavanaugh from Crossing Jordan. She fits the description. But alas, she is female and it's a tv show . . . not what the OP wants.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:22 AM on November 25, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah I've come across quite a few of these types in detective fiction (which is my favourite genre). Inspector Rebus definitely fits in.

I tried to think of a female character that fits in my definition but really came up empty. A shame really.
posted by beautifulcheese at 11:27 AM on November 25, 2009

Sassyfrass and beautifulcheese: if you write fiction, here's your chance!
posted by fullofragerie at 11:35 AM on November 25, 2009

Try a mix of sci-fi and detective with The Garrett Filles. I think the title character fits your criteria.
posted by patheral at 11:49 AM on November 25, 2009

Why no flawed, broken, angry but still appealing Jane Eyres?

Elinor Dashwood? Yes. Elinor Dashwood.
posted by bonehead at 11:51 AM on November 25, 2009

It seems to me that the female version of this type of character can be pretty readily identified as a femme fatale. Am I missing something important that distinguishes them?
posted by cgc373 at 11:54 AM on November 25, 2009

Well, seems to me that the femme fatale is a projection of male desire/fear -- her flaws are directly related to her entrapment of men. The male type in this thread is sexy, but he's not portrayed as primarily an object of female desire -- his brokenness suggests his own subjectivity, not his danger to lovers.
posted by fullofragerie at 11:58 AM on November 25, 2009

I'll buy that, fulloffragerie, but the major difference between the character types then becomes an aspect of the differences between the stories we find these characters in, no? So these sexy broken people can be male or female, but when they're female, often the stories occur in a larger context of sexist and male-dominated rhetorical forms and norms, i.e., patriarchy. (Not to totally derail, and apologies if I'm doing so. I'd like to think of this as a tangent rather than a derail.) If we were able to frame a story where the femme fatale were a protagonist instead of an antagonist or a foil or a love interest or whatever, would we not get very similar sorts of stories as the ones beautifulcheese initially asked about?
posted by cgc373 at 12:09 PM on November 25, 2009

Kathy Mallory, from Carol O'Connell's series which starts with Mallory's Oracle and should be read in order. (These are detective novels.)
posted by jeather at 12:09 PM on November 25, 2009

fullofragerie, no second f, sorry.
posted by cgc373 at 12:14 PM on November 25, 2009

What about Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect?
posted by anonymous78 at 12:17 PM on November 25, 2009

These characters are everywhere in urban fantasy, and they're women, to boot!

Kate Daniels in Magic Bites (first in a series) by Ilona Andrews.

Rachel Morgan in Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows series) by Kim Harrison.

Marla Mason in Blood Engines (first in a series) by T.A. Pratt.

Luna Wilder in Night Life (Nocturne City series) by Caitlin Kittredge.

There's also Felix Castor in The Devil You Know (first in a series) by Mike Carey.

All these characters are tough, smart, and have not-so-slight jerkish behavior. I hope one or more of them is what you're looking for.
posted by epj at 12:18 PM on November 25, 2009

Wynn, from Harlen Coben's Myron Bolitar series, definitely fits the bill. Best friend to the protagonist, he is i an ntelligent, affluent sociopath who can't relate to women.
posted by misha at 12:23 PM on November 25, 2009

stupid typos.
posted by misha at 12:24 PM on November 25, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and to answer the question: James Crumley's detective C. W. Sughrue from The Last Good Kiss; Richard St. Vier from Ellen Kushner's sequence of novels starting with Swordspoint; the first-person protagonist of Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body; Tom Selleck's portrayal of Robert B. Parker's character Jesse Stone in the CBS television movies (can't speak for the books, haven't read 'em); some departures from form with a couple of vampire novels, namely Orfeo Ricardi and Daniel Blum from Jemiah Jefferson's Voice of the Blood and Wounds, as well as Edward Weyland from Suzy McKee Charnas's superb book The Vampire Tapestry. Another weird one: Oscar Valparaiso from Bruce Sterling's novel Distraction. (That one's admittedly bizarre, even more bizarre than the vampires.)
posted by cgc373 at 12:34 PM on November 25, 2009

Response by poster: I can't say that I've ever looked to Urban Fantasy as a place where this type of female character would be. I admit I have not read much of it but always placed it in the field of just another way to sell romance themed books which are just so not what I am looking for. Plus I have a hard time getting into fantasy as a genre. It always feels twee for me.

I can't explain why femme fatale is not the same as the type of male character I'm looking for. I think fullofragerie does a good job of getting to the gist of it. I wish I was better with words to explain why.
posted by beautifulcheese at 12:43 PM on November 25, 2009

> Or a way to better word what character type I'm actually looking for to help me search would also be helpful

Thrilling-but-frustrating-bastards (and, actually, thrilling-because-frustrating-bastards) are typically called Badboys.

This isn't that informative a term, but that's part of the point: It offers lots of room for projection.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:49 PM on November 25, 2009

Best answer: Thought of so many others that I'm back for more. By the way, the individuals you're looking for can be classified as either anti-heroes or magnificent bastards, and TVTropes usually has some pretty good recommended watching/reading.

-A classic: Lestat from Anne Rice's series of novels.
-Another classic is probably Han Solo, but since I haven't read any of the Star Wars novels I can't recommend specifics. Still, worth looking into.
-Prince Corwin from Roger Zelazny's Amber series.
-Howl from Howl's Moving Castle.
-Pretty much everyone from Hellsing, but especially Hellsing and Integra.
-Artimus Fowl (kid's story, technically, but rolicking good fun.)
-Dream from The Sandman.
-Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan.
-Certain incarnations of The Doctor certainly fit the bill, and once again there are novelizations.
-Speaking of Doctor Who, the spinoff also involves an antihero.
-Magnificent bastards can often be found in surprising places, like Shakespeare!
-All of the characters from Cowboy Bebop.
-Sexy, sexy John Constantine from Hellblazer.
-What the hell, the other Lucifer fits the bill too.
-Wolverine is a classic as well.
-Not a book, but we can't leave out our favorite self-serving pirate.
-Oh, yeah, one of the granddaddies right here.
-Harry Dresden is a hell of a lot of fun too.
-Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is required reading as well.
-And one last TV show, just for shits and giggles.

That should tide you over for a bit.

On the female side, I think Phedre no Delauny from the surprisingly good Kushiel's Dart might fit the bill, although because we hear a great deal of the story from her point of view, many of her actions seem more justifiable than is an anti-hero's wont. She's still a hardcore, mysterious, and scheming cookie who always makes the tough decisions though.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:01 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

More fantasy, but good: the protagonist from Michelle Sagara's Cast in... series fits the bill, too. Those are pretty well written.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:09 PM on November 25, 2009

Try Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion." There are several characters who will provide what you're looking for. Great, great novel.
posted by lucky25 at 2:13 PM on November 25, 2009

Carl Hiaassen's mysteries are great, and most of the main characters are quite sarcastic.
Robert B Parker's Spenser novels; more fun to read roughly in order.
posted by theora55 at 2:20 PM on November 25, 2009

House, and most of the examples given here, are very good at what they do, and that seems an essential part of the type. if you disagree with that claim then Samuel Beckett awaits. nobody does broken inside like dear old Sam.
posted by spindle at 2:44 PM on November 25, 2009

John D. Mcdonald's Travis Mcgee might fit your parameters
posted by Redhush at 2:54 PM on November 25, 2009

Mo Hayder's Jack Caffery books have a broken protagonist fighting toward his own vision of goodness, and are just what you need.

I'd skip the above recommendation of Flashman unless you like dragging women around by their hair.
posted by Sallyfur at 3:53 PM on November 25, 2009

I was also coming by to recommend The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (aka Dr. House). Similar type of dry humor that you find on House too.
posted by geeky at 6:40 PM on November 25, 2009

Maybe Smilla in Smilla's Sense of Snow? She's smart, tough and pushes people away through her words and actions.
posted by creepygirl at 10:12 PM on November 25, 2009

Response by poster: I just marked the answers best that I skimmed through on amazon and really agreed with. Already reading an Andrew Vachss book with other suggestions on hold at the library.

Many thanks for the Magnificent Bastard definition. That made me laugh and fit exactly what I was looking for.
posted by beautifulcheese at 10:31 AM on November 27, 2009

I was halfway through a Nero Wolfe novel I started today when it occurred to me... Wolfe's another magnificent bastard.
posted by Zed at 10:47 PM on November 27, 2009

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