Is it true that in a mystery novel the author has to keep the villain a secret until the end? Not necessarily, because the villain isn’t always the killer. Sometimes the villain is the victim. Witness Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express. When I write a mystery novel, I try to mix it up from book to book. Sometimes the bad guy is the killer, sometimes the victim, and sometimes the villain is just a red herring. Perhaps in a mystery novel, there doesn’t even have to be a villain, just a killer. A person can do an evil thing without necessarily being evil.
No matter what kind of book, though, you can’t beat a great villain. The touch of genius in The Dark Knight’s Joker was that no reason for his evil was ever really given. The tale the Joker tells about himself keeps changing - is one version true or are they all lies? His most revealing explanation is when he compares his lust for destruction to a dog chasing a car. Doesn’t want anything. He wouldn’t know what to do with the car if he caught it. He just wants to chase it.
One of my favorite literary villains for sheer scariness is Andrew Carlisle in J.A. Jance’s Hour of the Hunter. He’s a genius as well as a complete psychopath, and you wonder how he’s ever going to get caught. The possibility that someone like him actually exists kept me awake for a night or two. If it can be thought of, it can be.
A brilliant movie villain, in my humble opinion, is Archie Cunningham, the character played by Tim Roth in Rob Roy. He is thoroughly despicable. He never once in the entire movie does a decent thing. He also spends a lot of time staring at a miniature of his mother, which he keeps in a locket around his neck. As for Archie’s father, well, his mother had narrowed his identity down to three possibilities. Maybe we can guess why Archie is like he is, and even spare him a little sympathy, but he’s such a pig that when he finally gets his comeuppance, it’s only what he deserves and we are entirely satisfied.
That movie, by the way, has several really interesting themes. How far would you go to survive? Would you be able to hurt yourself to keep from being killed? Would it occur to you to climb inside a dead cow to save your life?
But I digress.
We were speaking of our favorite villains. Remember Snidely Whiplash? Now there’s a villain. Isn't that his picture at the top of Vickie's post?