Is everybody familiar with the way character is designated along the moral spectrum in the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons? The categories are: lawful good (eg Abe Lincoln), chaotic good (eg Robin Hood), lawful neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil (eg Hitler), and chaotic evil. It's an interesting perspective to apply to mystery protagonists and their worlds. Police procedurals usually feature lawful good protagonists: cops who play more or less by the rules and bring the bad guys in. Private eyes tend to be chaotic good: they break the rules to bring the bad guys in--or take them down. Robert B. Parker's Spenser is a good example: he kills at least one bad guy in every book and never suffers any consequences: but there's never any doubt about the bad guy's badness. TV's Jack Bauer on "24" is an even better chaotic good. He kills whomever he has to to save the world. Chaotic neutrals may be the most interesting characters. Donald Westlake's Dortmunder is a chaotic neutral. So is Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr. Hannibal Lecter is chaotic evil. Margaret Maron's Judge Deborah Knott is lawful good. Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski is chaotic good. Where would you place Sharon McCone? Kate Shugak? Anita Blake? Dexter?
Sometimes a character is more moral than his environment. Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti is lawful good. He always detects the villain. But Leon's Venice--her whole Italy--is so corrupt that the bad guy is hardly ever brought to justice. Where would you place your favorite protagonists? What's your favorite moral stance in fiction? Do you prefer your noir heroes chaotic neutral or chaotic good? Do you admire a chaotic good sleuth more or less than a lawful good?