I write a mystery series featuring a NYPD detective named Marian Larch. In the fourth book of the series, You Have the Right To Remain Silent, I introduced an FBI agent named Curt Holland. Holland returns in the subsequent books in the series, now no longer with the FBI and, more importantly, Marian's on-again, off-again lover.
Following Holland's first appearance, I started getting questions from readers asking me whom Holland was based on. Various guesses were made: Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Lord Byron, Patrick McGoohan, Avon in Blake's 7, Neil Burnside in Sandbaggers. I found this intriguing. I had never before had readers trying to figure out who one of my characters "really" was.
But as time went on, it became clear that Avon in Blake's 7 was the favorite candidate. Blake's 7 is a science fiction TV series that originally ran on the BBC from 1978 - 1981, and all fifty-two episodes have been shown frequently in the US on local PBS stations. The show was (and is) a favorite of mine, and I was certainly familiar with the character Avon, who emerged as the series lead after the actor playing Blake left the show. Still, I thought nothing of the comparison; both Avon and Holland are Byronic heroes -- they were bound to have some traits in common. I was simply pleased that Holland was attracting that kind of attention.
Not that Holland is a universally beloved character. Anything but. My friend and fellow mystery writer Charlaine Harris says he's "prissy"; another friend, mystery reviewer Kathy Phillips, calls him "a stick". When I told Charlaine that I was giving Holland a hard time in Full Frontal Murder, she said, "Good! I hope you string him up naked in Times Square!" But like him or not, Holland does draw strong responses.
The first person to suggest to me that Holland was an Avon avatar was Sarah Thompson; her conviction was shared by Pat Nussman. They both present their arguments below.
Pat even opened a topic on Genie to talk about it...and did we ever talk! I followed every word of the discussion, jumping in to argue with a group of Blake's 7 fans calling themselves Avon-without-Guilt. I kept stoutly maintaining that Holland was not based on Avon; they kept saying, "Uh-huh."
All this was going on while I was working on Full Frontal Murder. And then one day I looked at the computer screen...and saw I had typed "Avon" where I'd meant "Holland". I'd crossed the line. They had convinced me.
If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. So, I hereby declare that the Holland in Full Frontal Murder is openly and deliberately based on the Blake's 7 character Kerr Avon as performed by the actor Paul Darrow. There. I've admitted it.
And it's because of their extraordinary persuasive powers that I've dedicated Full Frontal Murder to the Avon-without-Guilt gang.
I've explained elsewhere about how I always like to include one inside joke in each of my mysteries. The joke in Full Frontal Murder is, of course, a Blake's 7 joke, and it's the biggest one I've ever perpetrated; it runs through the entire book. B7 fans will catch on immediately; nonfans won't even notice. So why pull such a stunt? Well...because it's fun, that's why.
Shall I Compare Thee to a Renegade Computer Expert?
(An examination of certain resemblances between Curt Holland and Kerr Avon)
by Pat Nussman
A year or so back, a friend of mine and fellow Blake's 7/Avon fanatic, Sarah Thompson, sent me a copy of a book called You Have the Right To Remain Silent and told me, "I think there's a character in here with certain similarities to Avon, but the author denies it. Tell me what you think."
Since I'd seen Barbara's name on Genie -- and knew she subscribed to one of the Blake's 7 lists I also followed -- but hadn't yet read any of her books, this seemed like a good time to check one out and form an opinion about this intriguing possibility. After reading it, I told Sarah, rather dryly, "Yes, there are certain...parallels between the characters." To put it mildly! Following up YHTRTRS with The Apostrophe Thief didn't change my mind, and when Fare Play came out a few months after I'd read the first two, one reference literally had me rolling around laughing, it seemed so directly connected to Avon.
About this time, I started the "Curt Holland a.k.a. Kerr Avon" topic on Genie to discuss the similarities, and Barbara challenged me to detail the parallels, to convince her that the two men really were related. So I put together a little list to allow us to count the ways....
1. Looks. This is an obvious one, but perhaps one of the hardest to pin down, since it's difficult to be specific enough using the written word to fit just one person. Our first description of Holland in on page 69 of the paperback version of YHTRTRS, saying he has black hair and eyes and strong features, with deep shadows under his eyes and scowl lines around his mouth. "Even in repose his expression was one of ...arrogance? Resentment? Arrogant resentment?"
Okay, in Blake's 7, Avon has brown hair and eyes, but practically everyone, including myself, "sees" them as black. Amateur fiction dealing with Avon (known as fan fiction or just fanfic) generally describes him in just that way. Shadows under the eyes? Yes, I'm looking at quite a nice piece of art of Avon as I type. Definitely shadows there. Arrogant resentment? Avon has a corner on the market.
The page 115 description is even more suggestive. "Black hair, black eyes that bored into you like drills, downturned mouth, condescending air. He was dressed all in black, as he'd been the first time she'd seen him..." Avon's intense eyes drilling into his uncomfortable crewmates are a staple of fan fiction, for good reason. Actor Paul Darrow is exceedingly good at using his expressive eyes for effect. The condescending air? One episode of B7 would be sufficient to convince you of that similarity. Black? Avon wears practically nothing else in the third and fourth seasons of B7...it's his trademark outfit.
In a way, though, a casual physical reference in TAT is even more striking to Avon-fans who are putting the eye on Holland. On page 32, Kelly says, "No, some years back he'd have been pretty. Now he's good-looking." Avon, in the first and second seasons of B7, is almost pretty, but by fourth season the character has had a hard life and is good-looking in a rougher, more "used" way. A friend of Sarah's has referred to this as "his slightly shopworn charms." This obviously puts Holland in fourth season or post-series B7 at the time of this reference and (as we'll see later), post-series is the correct time period for yet another reason.
2. Voice. YHTRTRS, page 63 of the hardback edition: "His voice was clipped, precise, like an actor's." Listen to an episode of Blake's 7, any episode, but something like "Star One" (in a speech where the character of Avon invites his then-leader, Blake, to "wade in blood to your armpits") is particularly good for catching the cadence of Avon's distinctive verbal patterns. Later, on page 172, Marian notes, "He was overarticulating his words." This is something Avon does often in the series when under stress. Holland's speech pattern in itself is also suggestive, as both Avon and Holland tend toward a dramatic and semi-formal way of structuring their sentences.
3. Attitudes. Sub category A: Idealism. In YHTRTRS, pages 96-97 of the paperback edition, Holland goes into quite a speech about another character's foolishness in believing that people can be forced into behaving decently, ending with the line, "An idealist--and therefore dangerous." Idealism, idealists, and Avon's contempt for such is a major theme in B7 and it doesn't take too much imagination to picture Avon making Holland's speech here.
Sub category B: Tolerance toward stupidity. In YHTRTRS, page 96 of the paperback edition, Holland tells Marian, rather bitingly, that he does not tolerate fools gladly or at all. Another trait shared by Avon, and you might say, that in one particularly chilling episode, he actually tries to put one out an airlock.
Sub category C: Ideas about dominance. In YHTRTRS, page 62 of the hardback edition, Holland says "Everything is always about dominance." Although Avon never puts it so baldly, his struggle throughout the series, in my opinion, is at least partially about dominance and who's going to have it. He'd agree completely with Holland's statement.
4. Names. Kerr Avon's first name (seldom used in the series) has two pronunciations, "Cur" and "Kare", and the former pronunciation, gee, looks and sounds a lot like Curt, doesn't it? The last name has points of interest, too. Like Avon, Holland is a two-syllable name with a hard, somewhat sharp sound to it, and both last names are place names. Barbara has insisted that the first name, at least, is pure coincidence and has produced her original first name for the character to prove it ("Max"), and naturally I take her word for it! But it makes an interesting parallel now.
5. Skills. Identical, as far as I can see. Both are computer experts, both have hacking experience (more on that in the next category). The interesting thing to me is that Barbara put Holland's computer skills to much better use in the very first book than the B7 writers managed for Avon in four years worth of scripts.
An interesting secondary skill of Holland's is the ability to get past security systems and pick locks, both of which Avon does on occasion. Though, of course, in B7, the thief character of Vila Restall gets most of that action. I'm wondering if there was a "Vila" in Holland's past who taught him the ropes.
6. Mysterious pasts. Holland's crime (page 127, YHTRTRS), which forced him to join the FBI and resulted in him being stuck with Page, was hacking into banking accounts. Avon's crime, which got him transported aboard a prison ship and resulted in him being stuck with Blake, was to try to hack the Federation Banking System. You know, this just seems really similar to me! I can only speak for myself, of course, but when I hit page 127, I started laughing uncontrollably. I thought Holland sounded like Avon before that point, but page 127...well, let's just say I had a very vivid mental picture of Holland after that point. There was just no doubt left in my mind.
7. Unwanted companions. There are also similarities between idealist Trevor Page of the FBI and Roj Blake of the Freedom Party, although it's not clear-cut...Blake is not the ultimately villainous type that Page turns out to be. I tend to consider Page a dark, "alternate" Blake, not as clear a parallel as are Avon and Holland. However, their roles in Holland's/Avon's lives have similarities, as do their ultimate fates.
8. Reactions/reflexes. Both Holland and Avon are used to people being out to get them, partially as a result of their respective criminal pasts, partially as a result of their relationships with their unwanted companions (see above). A very Avonic moment late in YHTRTRS was on page 196-7, when Marian enters her apartment to find a half-asleep Holland aiming a gun at her. It's very easy to imagine Avon doing just that. The instincts are much the same, those instincts that have kept both men alive in a hostile universe.
In a completely different way, I found Holland's reaction to Marian's pain on page 118 of YHTRTRS just as Avonic. His unexpected compassion and insight ("you must have really gotten to him") to me parallels a scene with Cally in the episode, "Sarcophagus," where he advises her to keep regret a small part of her life and his understated sympathy with Tarrant in "Death-Watch." This is a little harder to defend canonically, but I got a very strong sense of the parallel, myself.
8. The shoot-out at Gauda Prime...er, Bleecker Street. In the last episode of B7, called "Blake," Avon believes his former friend and leader, Blake, has betrayed him and gut-shoots him in a dramatic final scene. In the climatic scene of YHTRTRS, Holland knows Page has not only betrayed him, but plans to kill him, and blows his head off. The drama has a very similar feel.
Holland, of course, does not stand over Page's body and he's surrounded by the FBI, though you might say that a version of that happens when Starbuck threatens him. Holland gets away from his version of the Feds because Marian is there to take the rap. Lucky Holland.
That just about wraps up the case for Holland a.k.a. Avon. The verdict? Well, if they're not precisely the same person, I'd say they're first cousins, at the very least. And, when you see things this way, it makes for some very amusing reading. The section of Fare Play, for example, that had me laughing was on page 85 of the hardcover version, where Holland tells Marian, "You betrayed me." The questions of trust and betrayal look large in B7 and the final shoot-out is precipitated by Avon asking Blake, "Is it true? Have you betrayed me?" So "betrayal" is a word any B7 fan will connect to the series and particular Avon.
Fortunately, Marian essentially said, "Don't be ridiculous" on the same page of FP as the question, so both of them will, hopefully, be around for some time to come.
How I Met Holland
by Sarah Thompson
Pat's analysis of the resemblances between Kerr Avon and Curt Holland is so complete that I can think of very little to add, save perhaps one thing: the air of decadence. In a way, that's part of the no-longer-pretty good looks that Pat already mentioned, but there's also a decidedly jaded and world-weary air shared by Holland and the fourth-season Avon.
And that reminds me of how I myself first found out about the books, before I passed the tip on to Pat. The first one in my circle of friends to spot the resemblance was Caroline Stevermer (author of A College of Magicks and other excellent fantasies), and she might not have noticed the resemblance or passed word on to me had I not (with the help of our mutual friend Charlotte) turned her on to B7 a short time before. But I did, and a few months later she asked me if I was familiar with a mystery author named Barbara Paul. I said that I had read and liked some of Barbara's books in the past, but hadn't kept up with her work recently. Caroline said that I should read a new one called You Have the Right to Remain Silent and see what I thought of one of the male characters. She was sure he was based on Avon.
What she said, as I recall, was something like: "When he was first introduced, I wondered, but I thought it might just be coincidence. When it was revealed that he had formerly been a hacker, and had specialized in robbing banks, I became very suspicious. And when he showed up at the art gallery, all dressed in black and looking slightly decadent, I was certain."
Or, as it says on p. 115 of the paperback edition of YHTRTRS: "In his slightly decadent way, Curt Holland looked right at home among this artsy crowd." Yes. I can see Avon there, easily.
Since Caroline is a very trustworthy source of recommendations for reading matter, I hurried out to find the book. When I read it, I had just the same reactions she had mentioned, at the same spots. But that might have been the power of suggestion, of course. So when I recommended the book to Pat, I carefully avoided mentioning the specific points of resemblance -- and sure enough, she noticed all the same things anyway. That convinced me it was no coincidence.
Since then I have recommended YHTRTRS to a number of B7 fans. All the Avon fans love it, but some of the Blake fans are unhappy with it because they see Trevor Page, the character who is ultimately revealed to be the villain, as a version of Blake. Well -- I could see Pat's interpretation of Page as a dark version of Blake, and certainly the final shootout has overtones of Gauda Prime; but personally, I always envisioned Page as an evil version of James T. Kirk! He has light brown hair and hazel eyes, whereas Blake has very dark, almost black, extremely curly hair, and green eyes.
And one more little thing that Pat didn't mention: the title of the play that is mentioned in YHTRTRS and becomes the title of the second book featuring Marian and Holland, The Apostrophe Thief. It's a wonderful title for a play, but the meaning is never really explained in either of the books. Then it dawned on me. The Apostrophe Thief must have been the person responsible for the lack of a certain piece of punctuation in the BBC's oddly spelled logo for a certain science fiction series: Blakes 7.
B7 Names in Full Frontal Murder
by Sarah E. Thompson
Page numbers refer to the Scribner edition.
p. 19Jarvik (a private security guard)
p. 19Heron Security (the agency that employs Jarvik)
p. 20Bartolomew (a police officer)
p. 31the Albian Gallery (an art gallery)
p. 52Gordon Egrorian (the owner of a cleaning service)
p. 53Consuela Palmero (an alias)
p. 57Vinni Security (a rent-a-cop agency)
p. 65Dr. David Zukan (a psychotherapist)
p. 70Chris Carnell (a software designer)
p. 73Raiker Corporation (a client of a detective agency)
p. 76Shari Tyce (a supermodel)
p. 81Krantor (a police detective)
p. 86Nick Atlay (a petty crook)
p. 87Annie Plaxton (a laundromat owner)
p. 102Bradford Ushton (a lawyer)
p. 108Meegat Street (an address in Hoboken)
p. 111Julia Ortega (a PI)
p. 118Hector Vargas (Julia Ortega's uncle)
p. 121Lippy Sarkoff (an ex-con)
p. 134Tony Arlen (a client of a detective agency)
p. 146Ravella (a police officer)
p. 147Lindor (a bodyguard)
p. 151Dorian Yates (a lawyer)
p. 177Provine (a police detective)
p. 177Grant (a police detective)
p. 188Mr. Bayban (a client of a detective agency)
p. 195Tarial cell (jail cell at Rikers Island)
p. 202Major Saurian (a building manager)
p. 211Verna Muller (a nanny)
Curt at Length
by Mary Sophia Novak
I find Curt Holland to be the most compelling fictional character I've read in a long time, a worthy foil to his leading lady. I confess I find him more interesting than Marian, but only by a little. I like Holland a lot better than, e.g., Harriet Vane; but then, I didn't think he should be Carrie Holland in the way that I felt she should have been Harry Vane. (I really liked Abby's take on Sayers in The Fourth Wall. My own view of the good lady was that she created a man she herself was/would be very attracted to, but that real-life men who shared those traits would be unlikely to be attracted to her, and that Harriet Vane reflects an intense struggle to create a foil worthy of her beloved.)
Reading Full Frontal Murder, I was very intrigued with the exploration into Holland's character, which began drawing him from the "He Wouldn't Be So Interesting If He Wasn't Such A Cipher" Byronic realm into becoming a more fully realized character. I was particularly delighted because I sussed out a few of his newly revealed quirks beforehand, which I think is the mark of an exceptional writer. I love it when the groundwork for new details of characterization is already present, consciously or un-, in the writer's previous work--it's such fun to think through what might happen, and occasionally be proven right.
I recently entertained myself with making notes of Holland's personality traits, such as they've been revealed. The ones that I found the most interesting are the ones that counter his general Romance Hero-ness. I don't know from Byronic heroes, although I think I've got the basic idea. But a lot of Holland dovetails with the Generally Accepted Manly Attributes of the romance novels I've enjoyed, and I find him more interesting where he doesn't.
Very typical traits include his access to lots of money, his shady past and probably difficult childhood, the fact that he's not absorbed by conventional beauty, and has been alone all his life. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I liked it that we got to see him rejecting the shallow model in FFM, although I think that it would be interesting to see Marian more clearly through his eyes. I found the section in one of the previous books where Marian reflected that he couldn't possibly find her physically attractive very intriguing. My pet theory -- contested by some Actual Guys I've shared it with -- is that guys who are attractive, charismatic, and self-confident enough to be pretty widely experienced with women are less concerned with how the world may see them reflected in the attractiveness of their companions than less self-confident guys. Holland could fit this conception. I'm sure he's mainly in love with the Inner Marian, but I imagine he's attracted enough to the Outer Marian as well. It's interesting that she doesn't know that.
I also think it's an interesting and very canny decision to steadfastly leave Holland's Mysterious Past in the realm of the unknown. I wondered what he had done -- since so much of his former life was spent holed up in front of a computer -- that forced him to shoot someone.
I was more intrigued with the places where Holland breaks away from his stereotype:
1) He's awfully emotionally dependent on Marian. I would have been interested in seeing how that might have changed after FFM -- I could see it getting stronger or weaker, with logical reasons for either way. I also thought this was the single most humanizing detail added to the characterization.
2) Almost all Classic Heroes are marked by their understated elegance -- I'm quite tickled by Holland's tendency to ostentation. I wondered if that was tied to his Mysterious, Presumed Deprived past.
3) Likewise, I enjoyed the earthy humor that turned up underneath the polished veneer, although I had trouble reconciling the two. The dialogue about picking up chorus girls and snorting lines was my favorite moment in the book, but it seemed to be coming from another character. He seems a bit conflicted between austerity and worldly-wise. I wondered why he even owns a TV and VCR; I can't imagine what the man would do for fun. Does he read? (I could most easily imagine him indulging in various entertainment, but only extremely selectively--only PBS opera on the TV.)
4) My favorite detail, which seems to be a running theme, is that he loves Marian for her ethics but seems to especially love it when she violates them a little. Also that he bases their relationship on trust, but doesn't stop being involved in shady dealings on his own time. (And there's the great section in Fare Play where Marian reflects that he trusts her completely and she barely trusts him at all -- did she grow out of this, or suppress it?)
I think the reason I find this character pairing so compelling is that it's so original, in its way. I read lots of romance novels. (I like several varieties of genre fiction.) I like them just fine, if they're good. Not too long ago I picked up an actual Work Of Literature, which was touted as being new and original. The writing was beautiful, but the story devolved into an extremely cut-and-dried romance novel format, and I disposed of the book. I thought a lot about why it bothered me so. It happened I'd bought a used advance copy, with a press kit and reviews. One of the critics said that "romance readers would no doubt find the love interest quite compelling, although he didn't do anything for me" or something like that. But it left me cold, although I would have accepted it if I'd been reading a romance novel. I expected something different from a writer who presumably had higher-than-genre standards for herself. Which is why I find Curt and Marian so compelling: they definitely strike me as a higher-than-genre creation.
A New Short Story Featuring Curt Holland
by Barbara Paul
The story is called "Clean Sweep" -- and it's meant to demonstrate Holland's own twisty form of morality at work. What he does during an investigation of the death of a sweepstakes winner is not quite legal, but not quite unethical either. I regret to inform you that there is no Beautiful Suffering in this story, alas. But someone does try to kill Holland -- will that do?
"Clean Sweep" appears in A New York State of Crime, edited by Feroze Mohammed, published by Worldwide, 1999; ISBN 0-373-26317-1. This book is a paperback omnibus edition; "Clean Sweep" is tucked in after a pair of novels by Michael Jahn and Dorian Yeager. A lot of reading for six bucks.
Special thanks to Lee Butler for permission to use his pictures of Avon, and to Ed Williams for designing the header and the background.
Marian Larch series|
Page created January 27, 1997; last updated January 14, 2001.