Great books are usually a solid combination of plot and character. Thus, I feel it is important for me to lay out some of the greatest characters in fiction.
1) Bubba - Dennis Lehane
Why: Lehane has created some solid secondary characters but he topped himself with Bubba who defies any conventional labels. He is (among other things) a psychopathic gun dealer who kills without conscience and whose apartment is rigged with landmines. Whew. A charmer you would love to bring home to mom...and he is one of the good guys?! Bubba only loves two people, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, and helps them in Lehane's early books. Bubba may not be a star but he certainly leaves and impression and give Lehane credit for not overutilizing the character. He leaves you wanting more Bubba, not sick of him.
2) Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino - Clive Cussler
Why: Why not just one of them? Try picking Redford or Newman - not possible. They are a tag team hell-bent on doing what they believe is right. Naturally they end up saving the world multiple times and killing more bad guys than most small-market dictators. However, they are the epitome of the self-deprecating heroes who never sought the spotlight but made a real difference. They had the best peak (1976 - 1999) of any characters and within that peak the ten year run of Cyclops (1986) - Shock Wave (1996) remains one of the best stretches of thriller fiction in history. Quick with the one liner and endlessly sacrificial, these two had the adventures of a lifetime, thankfully dragging readers alongside.
3) Pete Bondurant - James Ellroy
Why: A pimp, shakedown artist, thug and murderer who ultimately proves he has a heart, Bondurant is one of a kind. He works for Howard Hughes, the CIA, Jimmy Hoffa and the mob and does so with a reckless abandon all his one. Big Pete, haunted by the fact that he murdered his own brother - and did not care!?, is one of the most compelling and morally ambiguous protagonists in modern fiction.
4) Lisbeth Salander - Stieg Larsson
Why: Lisbeth, the heroine of Larsson's Millenium Trilogy is a marvel of character. She is damaged, flawed, peerlessly brave and incredibly intelligent. In an era of strong women in fiction, she may be the strongest. From getting revenge on her rapist to brutally beating a serial killer and going right at evil head on, Salander does not shy away from anything. Thankfully, of course, for the reader.
5) Bernie Gunther - Philip Kerr
Why: Sarcastic, brutal and a complete thug almost as bad as the Nazi's he despises, Bernie is one of a kind. Truly a symbol of justice in the Nazi era (and beyond) he proved just how terrible a person had to be to survive - and thrive - in that time. The hero of six novels, Bernie is about to make his seventh (and final?) appearence in the fall. Here's hoping he is good as ever.