[L]ast week I was doing an interview and the reporter said, “I loved [Big City, Bad Blood], but I really didn’t like your protagonist, Ray Dudgeon. He’s not a very nice guy. Couldn’t you have made him more likable?”
And one to which I didn’t really have a good answer. Perhaps I could’ve made Ray a nicer guy, but I would’ve been creating a different character, and writing a different book.
Ray’s an idealist living in a corrupt world, and he’s got a lot of anger. He's psychologically damaged, but he’s no sociopath. I don’t approve of all the things he does, and I don’t expect that most readers will, either. But he interests me. He’s not a bad man (most of the time) and he’s trying to become a better man. He’s just not very good at it. There’s a lot of room for him to grow, in future books, and I'm rooting for him.
In hardboiled crime fiction I want to see just how a cynical, gritty world affects the protagonist. Such a world is bound to wear down the most idealistic character. If it doesn't, it's not quite real to me. If external conflict doesn't cause internal conflict, I lose interest.
Then again, series protags who go through hell in every book, constantly conflicted and brooding, don't seem real to me either. The greater the range of emotions a character can show, the better.