I’ve done the detectives in several posts, now I thought I’d do the criminals. There are some cracking villains out there, many of whom are as memorable and relatable as the detectives who hunt them. Here is my pick of the best fictional criminals and how they have helped to shape this popular genre.
- Amy Dunne: When I first read Gone Girl Amy terrified me right from the very beginning. At the start of the novel she is the embodiment of everything no girl wants to be: fawning over her idiotic, selfish husband and kowtowing to her boorish and equally self-obsessed parents. Then, during the second part of the novel, we see things from Amy’s real viewpoint, and that was even more terrifying; here was a woman who could see no way out of being what everyone expected of her without concocting a horrific plan to shame her philandering husband and run away from her dull life. By setting up these two options as the only two potential choices for women, author Gillian Flynn makes a truly horrifying point about femininity and the lack of choices women have, and it is that, more than Amy herself, which is genuinely frightening. As such her portrayal of Amy, both the perfect and the flawed sides of her personality, are both equally riveting and spine chilling, making her a great villain.
- Samuel Ratchett: Although technically the murder victim in Christie’s iconic (and highly overrated) novel Murder on the Orient Express, Ratchett is undeniably a villain, and even his death causes confusion and problems for the detective. Despite the ridiculous plot and many of the characters being overly stereotypical, the one saving grace of this book is Ratchett and Christie’s depiction of both his life and death. Drawing inspiration from Dickens by giving her villain an evil name, the Queen of Crime creates a vile and disgusting character in her fearful American businessman seeking assistance from Poirot, only to be murdered shortly after being turned away by the astute detective, who dislikes this potential client’s face and manner. When it transpires that Ratchett is in fact Lanfranco Cassetti, the mob boss and child murderer who perpetrated and escaped justice for a horrific crime many years earlier, motives rain from the sky like hailstones.
- Arthur Geiger: Again, more of a victim than a villain within the novel’s plot and not the overall murderer in Raymond Chandler’s superb novel The Big Sleep, Geiger is a shit of the first order: a blackmailer, pornographer and general creep, Geiger dies early in the book and his death becomes an instrumental driver for the narrative, steering it towards its climactic conclusion. Geiger and his cretinous behaviour are at least partially responsible for the demented behaviour of Carmen Sternwood; by drugging and molesting her Geiger, who also runs a bookshop selling pornographic material, creates the monster who murders her sister’s husband.
- Sebastian Moran: Whilst the modern BBC adaptation makes a big deal of Professor Moriarty, it is in fact his employee, the embittered Colonel and skilled marksman, who has always stood out as the better villain in my opinion. With his sheer grit and determination he is truly frightening, showing utterly no mercy. Ruthless in his pursuit of those who wrong him or threaten to expose his shady dealings, Moran is described as heartless and cold-blooded, and in my eyes he was the real evil villain in Doyle’s stories. Although Moriarty had the connections and the wealth, the real viscous spirit was Moran’s, and he was the one who committed many of the actual crimes, acting as a serial hit man for the psychopathic Professor. In terms of both kill count and sheer murderous nature, Moran beats Moriarty hands down, and is therefore the more worthy of a place on this list.
- Carl and Irma Peterson: The perfect counterfoil to Sapper’s gentlemanly solider Bulldog Drummond, Carl is evil personified for the first four novels until his spectacular death, at which point his girlfriend Irma takes over. Irma is equally evil and villainous, embodying the scorned woman as she battles both Drummond and his band of merry men, as well as his wife Phyllis, who acts as the perfect opposite of the vampy and astute Irma. These two career criminals are the ideal nemeses of the Drummonds, and they drive the plot along with their quick dialogue and exuberant evil schemes.