As I’ve mentioned previously, Jekyll and Hyde play a large role in Questionable Minds. Henry Jekyll is a prominent reformer, dedicated to getting young women off the streets and into respectable working-class occupations. A number of his proteges are women with mentalist powers who for whatever reason became unemployable — alcoholics, violent temper, scandal in their past, etc. While there’s no “kill the muties” attitude toward mentalists, the upper classes feel very uneasy about the working class having powers, about women having powers. It doesn’t take much to turn a poor woman with powers into a pariah.Jekyll thinks he’s reburied Hyde and can live a life of virtue but guess what? Hyde resurfaces (I’m sure this isn’t a spoiler — would anyone be surprised?). Writing a post for a blog tour, it occurs to me Hyde comes off better in my book than he should.
He’s not a nice guy at all. He’s violent, hot-tempered and thoroughly self-interested (this becomes a major plot point). I refer in several spots to his crimes, including assault, theft, blackmail and rape. His crimes, though, happened in the past or offstage. On the printed page, he comes off closer to an antihero: cynical, mocking Jekyll’s hypocrisies, selfish but not monstrously so. And he’s up against Jack the Ripper, a far worse monster. Hyde would break a woman’s arm without thinking twice; Jack will slit a woman’s throat and he’ll think about what fun it is the whole time.
As far as I’m concerned, Hyde is a villain, but in the context of Questionable Minds he’s more sinned against than sinning. I think it works, and I don’t think any readers will assume I’m siding with Hyde (I sure hope not). It is an odd feeling though.
The same is true of Cohen and Dini, the FBI agents in Southern Discomfort. They’ve arrived in Pharisee GA to investigate the bombing that killed Aubric McAlister (an elf, though they don’t know that) and a rising black politician. The FBI director hopes to demonstrate J. Edgar Hoover’s old, racist FBI with its attacks on the civil rights movement is dead: the new, more liberal FBI is here! Cohen and Dini are very conscious that there are a lot of eyes on them and failure will not be graded on a curve.
Neither one is a racist but their politics are way to the right of mine. Dini still thinks the FBI’s war on communists and the anti-war movement was a good thing. Cohen, as she says in one scene, thinks the civil rights movement was wrong: even in a good cause, nothing excuses willfully breaking the law the way the protesters did.
In a different story, they could be — well, not villains but antagonists to good-guy leftwing protesters or activists. In Southern Discomfort they’re good guys whose goals nevertheless put them in opposition to Maria, my protagonist. As with Hyde, it’s unsettling to think that. A little more so as the FBI and its crimes are real and Edward Hyde isn’t. I don’t think it’s objectionable: I make their views and the ugly history of the FBI quite clear (sure hope so).
It’s up to the readers — Nov. 14 for Questionable Minds, some as yet unknown date for Southern Discomfort — to let me know if I handled things as well as I think I did.
#SFWApro. Cover by Sam Collins.