Sexiest Man in Fiction

By Morgan Karpiel

Okay, we all have our favorite romance heroes. I’ve asked people to put forth their nominations for “Sexiest Romance Hero” in the past and I’ve received a respectable list of vampires, werewolves, dukes, cops, ninjas, doctors etc… All of them brilliant, sensitive characters with lean, muscular bodies and well-stocked arsenals of witty sexual quips. I have a weakness for these characters, admittedly, but there’s only one hero that sits at the top of the pantheon for me.

He’s an unusual choice, especially as he does not actually appear in romance novels, though he has tracked the woman he loved across continents and saved her from both a maniacal lover and a fate worse than death. He is most often found in political murder mysteries, though his career has taken him from the frozen ice rink of Gorky Park to the blazing sun of Havana. He does not (one would imagine) have a body corded with muscle. He’s thin. He’s a smoker. But above all else, he’s extraordinary person in form of an ordinary man.

You guessed it (or perhaps not) . . . He is Arkady Renko. He first appeared in the novel Gorky Parky and any search on the author, Martin Cruz Smith, will list the other books in the series. My personal favorites are Polar Star and Havana Bay.

Now, what makes him such a good hero? Glad you asked. I’ll start by giving you a description. Renko was played by John Hurt in the movie adaptation of Gorky Park, but we’ll ignore that because I’ve always thought that Michael Wincott would have been a better choice, so we’ll just pretend that the movie was cast by me.

Renko is supposed to be tall, gaunt, pale and dark-haired. This isn’t exactly the slab of steak offered by most romance writers, but the power of Arkady’s character is something darker and richer, something that would be ruined by the glow of perfect health. He’s reflection of his environment and seems to share its bleak illnesses. Arkady’s a Russian detective, a man who has virtually no power but is tasked with discovering the truth and applying the law in a country that does not acknowledge or appreciate either.

He doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t smirk or roll out catch phrases in the presence of those who despise him. He isn’t arrogant, seductive or brimming with alpha male charm. Further, he lives in a shell of an apartment, drives a wreck that most people would consider a “parts” car and is the most unlikely person in Russia to ever make it rich.

What is it, then, that makes him a hero? I’ll tell you. Arkady is man who has already let go of any high expectations he might have had for himself and the world, and could easily, so so easily, fall in line with those around him. For some reason, however, he continues to question. He does it automatically, almost ambivalently, almost as if he can’t help it.

His superiors always tell him what to think, what to write in the report. People offer him money. And yet, without passion or aggression, he follows his own path. Call it fatalistic Taoism, or perhaps just a touch of genuine Russian flavored depression, but the guy can’t be put into a box. Quietly, thoughtfully, he finds broken people and he somehow saves them, by asking questions, by hearing what they aren’t saying and by being there even when doing so puts him at risk.

He does this, as I mentioned before, without expectation. He does it because he needs to do it, because his curiosity, and ultimately his humanity, drive him to do it. That’s it. That’s his secret power. Sure, there are usually some gun fights in the books, along with choking scenes and attempted knife attacks in sauna rooms, but those are never the parts that keep me up at night.

When we think about heroes, it’s important to remember how many different kinds of heroes there really are. The role of the hero has become so sensationalized in romance fiction, and certainly there’s a place for overstimulation and fantasy, but I challenge the writers out there to write something, some small piece, where the hero looks like the guy who does your taxes and works in job that doesn’t require a gun and will never make a lot of money. If you think there’s no way that a person like that can be a hero, then you haven’t been listening to the stories in your own life.


  1. Bravo! Great post Morgan - I agree with you - yes the complex heroes are the most appealing are they not? And they often don't come in a pretty package. I haven't read Gorky Park - but now I want to - thanks to you're post. ;) Cheers!

  2. I'm a complete sucker for a moody Russian! And your choice for the perfect Arkady - Michael Wincott - I'm totally with you on that one.

  3. Very nice, Morgan.

    I love your description and find your choice of a hero quite intriguing. Although some of the brawny, shirt-bursting Alpha heroes can be fun, I always found it difficult to wrap my libido around those guys. Mostly because my inner lust factory is based more on brain than brawn.

    I also love your depiction of a hero who questions because he can't help himself. Who finds broken people and somehow saves them by asking questions and hearing what they're not saying.

    Great post! Thanks for this!



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