Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cast of Charcters for Mysteries?

There’s been a thread running lately on DorothyL, the big mystery listserv, concerning the use of a Cast of Characters in mystery novels. It’s something early practitioners of the genre like Agatha Christie did. I’m not a historical mystery reader, but I understand writers of historicals frequently put in a Cast of Characters to keep everybody straight.

I think it’s a good idea. I keep a list when I’m writing and add names to it when I come up with a new character. It prevents the confusing practice of using names that sound too much alike, or starting more than one character with the same first letter. Sometimes the latter can’t be helped, as in my current work in progress. I have the name of a real person I promised to use in the book, and up pops a character from a previous book with the same first letter. I’m also using a couple of characters with “T” names who appeared in different books. One is a minor character, though, and the names don’t sound much alike.

I understand historicals often use a Cast of Characters to show relationships. It’s the old Family Tree idea. If I did that with my Greg McKenzie mysteries, it would only look like a twig. Greg and his wife, Jill, would be left hanging out on a limb. One book does include a cousin, but that would hardly warrant a trunk and branches.

I’ve thought about putting Casts of Characters for my current five books on my website. New readers could drop by and pick up a program (you can’t tell your players without your program, as the ball game hawkers used to chant). I thought I’d try it out here to see how it works. So if you haven’t read the first McKenzie mystery, Secret of the Scroll, here’s your chance to get started. The characters are listed more or less in order of their appearance.

Cast of Characters

Khaled Assah – Palestinian youth from Ramallah studying archeology in Jordan
Abdullah Kafi – Assah’s cousin from Ramallah, Palestinian town near Jerusalem
Levi Katz – Israeli border police sergeant at Allenby Bridge entry point
Greg McKenzie – retired Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent from Nashville, TN
Jill McKenzie – Greg’s wife, former charter air service owner
Sam Gannon – retired Air Force pilot, friend of the McKenzies and Holy Land tour organizer
Wilma Gannon – Sam Gannon’s wife, Jill McKenzie’s best friend
Tim Gannon – Sam and Wilma’s son, young architect/engineer
Jake Cohen – American working as a travel guide in Israel
David Wolfson – co-owner of Nashville market research firm, Bible Codes buff, friend of Cohen
John Peterson – young CPA, target of Metro Nashville homicide detective over wife’s disappearance
Tessa Peterson – John’s wife, a successful interior designer and mother of a small son
Harland Walker Blackford – Tessa’s father, president of large Nashville bank
Mark Tremaine – Metro homicide detective who goes after Peterson
Pat Intermaggio – another Blackford son-in-law, owns firm that hauls equipment for musicians
Sgt. Christie – Metro patrol officer, brother-in-law of Mark Tremaine
Phil Adamson – Metro homicide detective who checks into Jill’s disappearance
Jay Rogers – the McKenzies’ next-door neighbor
Ricky Rogers – Jay’s observant 12-year-old son
Charles (Chili) Hankins – Nashville Bell South security man
Julian Quancey Welch – Vanderbilt Divinity School Old Testament professor
Ted Kennerly – OSI Special Agent in Charge at Arnold Air Force Base south of Nashville
Kevin – Metro police sergeant, Wilma Gannon’s nephew
Eli Zalman – former Mossad officer now employed by the Temple Alliance
Asher Lipkowitz – colleague of Zalman
Kamal Nazari – Palestinian affiliated with the Guardians of Palestine
Colonel Erikson – Greg’s former OSI commander, now Ted Kennerly’s superior
Alice Baker – neighbor of Kermit Nagy (a.k.a. Kamal Nazari)
Capt. Grubbs – Tennessee Air National Guard C-130 pilot
Yolla – classmade of Khaled Assah, daughter of Jordanian official
Moriah – code name for Moshe Levin
Moshe Levin – former Mossad officer now security chief for the Temple Alliance
Col. Warren Javis – Air Force Attache in Tel Aviv
Mr. Jabbar – Bedouin owner of the Saladin antiquities shop in a Jerusalem bazaar
Kamal – Arab owner of jewelry store in Jerusalem
Father Coughlin – American priest at the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu
Yelena – Russian Jew working for the Temple Alliance
Ambassador Hamilton – American ambassador to Israel

Except for a few walk-ons who merited no more than a paragraph in the book, that covers the cast. Is this the sort of thing readers would be interested in? Please leave a comment.


Tina said...

Ok, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

I myself have been trying to solve the mystery of this legend for a while now. Could not understand much though.

Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

By the way, good writing style. I'd love to read more on similar topics

KK Brees said...

Chester, I've been struggling with this idea, as well. How much info do you give before you give away some of the plot/ It's a tricky tightrope act.

Also, if the list is too long, it's more confusing than not having one at all.

Verdict is still out.

Anonymous said...


"Metro homicide detective who goes after Peterson" IMO should be changed to "Metro homicide detective who pursues the innocent along with the guilty" or some such, i.e. don't tell me any of the "storyline" in the C of C.

"Phil Adamson – Metro homicide detective who checks into Jill’s disappearance". Again, remove "Jill".

Now, the main reason I want a C of C is so that I can look up a character whose relationship in the story I don't remember. So you ought to alphabetise them or something.

Otherwise, perfect! Just what I want. Now, I just need a way to print this out, so I can tuck it into the front of the book when I read it. ;)


Maryannwrites said...

Theresa, you can copy the cast of characters from the blog here, paste it into a word file, then print it out.

I am rather neutral on the idea of putting a cast of characters in a book, and if I did, I'm not sure I would include so many. BTW, could you imagine the budget for this many actors if this was a movie script. YIKES!!!

Chester Campbell said...

You have a good point, Maryann. Several of them could be left out. For example, John and Tessa Peterson and Harland Walker Blackford are described in backstory but don't actually appear on stage. A few others, like the two Arab shop owners in Jerusalem and Greg's old commander are barely mentioned. I need to pare it down a bit before putting it on my website.

L.J. Sellers said...

I'm thinking about putting all my POV characters on my website just a reference for readers. said...

I like this, Chester. It is a fun idea, and like you, I keep track anyway as I write. I can see where I could possibly give too much away by putting my tracking info on my website tho.

Chester Campbell said...

Good idea, L.J. And I agree, Christine, you have to be careful not to give away too much of the plot in listing characters.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I like the idea, Chester, and that is quite the cast of characters.

kmt1976 said...

Harper's Island did that and as fast as the people were being killed off it helped me keep them straight - sort of!