We’re delighted to be part of the Blog Tour for Kate Moretti’s The Vanishing Year. Here, she gives us her view on a subject close to her heart!
Top Five Villains in Crime Fiction
Writing a complicated layered antagonist, particularly in crime fiction, is no easy feat. They have to be sympathetic. You have to understand what they want and why and it has to run deep enough that, as a reader, you just know nothing will stand in their way. A flat villain whose desires are hidden or, worse, unrelatable produces someone cartoonish and while it maybe serves the plot, it certainly never evokes fear in a reader. There are some authors, particularly in the past fifty years, who have completely nailed the art of the complicated, and therefore sometimes terrifying, villain.
Mrs. Danvers is an antagonist so creepy that I paid homage to her in my new novel The Vanishing Year. She was so devoted to Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winters, that she almost convinces the second Mrs. de Winters to jump out the second story window of Manderley. She’s described as having a “skull face”, severe, dressed in black and is often portrayed by the terrified Mrs. de Winters as lurking in dark staircases and corners. When Mrs. de Winters descends that staircase, wearing the same dress Rebecca wore the year before? Positively evil.
Annie Wilkes is Stephen King’s worst nightmare: an avid fan turned bedside nurse turned psycho in King’s own Misery. Annie Wilkes is so terrifying, only because she’s so innocuous. Kind of homely, a little unrefined, almost pathologically cheery. In the book, she loses her mind at profanity, preferring “cockadoodie”, even as she’s severing Paul Sheldon’s thumb. It’s the off-set of these two traits: this sing-songy voice and this absolute psychosis that make her a villain with admirable depth.
The head nurse at Salem State Hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is almost the villainous opposite of Annie Wilkes. She has no sugary coating, no false sweetness. What she does have is pure unadulterated power and she wields it to terrifying results. Anti-psychotic meds, shock therapy, even lobotomies are never off limits. Possibly the only villain in this list to get her just deserts, the end of Cuckoo shows her as impotent and powerless after Randle McMurphy is killed. The inmates no longer fear her.
American Psycho reads like one long (run-on sentence) commentary on eighties yuppie culture. Bateman is the epitome of the eighties yuppie and his own self-hatred for it makes him a terrifyingly real villain. The sheer depth of his insanity is cause alone to fear him, regardless if his crimes actually happened or were mere fabrications, as has been interpreted. There are numerous frightening things about Bateman: his rampant hatred of women, his obviously absent moral compass, his disdain for literally every human being in his life, to the point where he interchanges them all. But what truly brings Bateman into the realm of villain is his obvious unraveling throughout the novel. He goes from self-aggrandizing to narcissistic to erratic to completely unglued. It’s this descent into madness that truly grips a reader.
In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Ripley murders two men, simply to serve his needs (in the continuing series, he murders or is responsible for the death of over ten people). He wants Dickie Greenleaf’s lifestyle. He’s a con artist and a sociopath, who uses murder only as last resort. This alone, while frightening, isn’t enough to land him on any great villain list. What really gives Ripley depth is his humanness. He’s so much like a boy next door, so agreeable, so smooth. He’s well read, enjoys gardening. He’s so delightfully bland. Except when something stands in his way. He’ll beat you to death and dump your weighted body in the water, row away and feel no remorse. It’s this nuanced portrayal of Tom Ripley that really makes him truly a fantastic anti-hero. As readers, we wanted him to get away with it.
The Vanishing Year is published by Titan Books