Recently, I was engaged in a thought-provoking conversation about thrillers, more specifically about the bad guys in thrillers. We discussed the villains in Southern Fraud and agreed that they aren’t terribly scary or diabolically evil.
I took this as a compliment because writing purely evil villains was not my intention. However, our conversation gave me an opportunity to reevaluate my view of thrillers as a genre and of bad guys in general.
From the beginning, I wanted Southern Fraud be a different kind of thriller. I wanted to emulate the feel of TV crime drama/comedies and not linger somewhere particularly dark and evil. I have always been looking for books that had a similar tone and style to shows like Castle, the Mentalist, or shows on USA. I’d never found them. Everything seemed to be either very dark or so slapstick it was unrealistic.
I wanted to write something humorous, somewhat realistic in plot, Southern in terms of manners and characters, and romantic in the right doses. I wanted to tell the story of characters overcoming obstacles, including the bad guys, and dealing with real emotions. I wanted the stakes to be high and the danger to be present, but I didn’t want to go the traditional route to attain these things. I wanted to try something different. I achieved my goal, I think, as far as what I wanted to do within the larger thriller genre.
But what about my bad guys? Are they evil enough?
Enter Keen Eddie, a TV show that ran one season in 2003-2004. I count this as a show that was cancelled too soon, much like Firefly. Was it perfect? No, but it was different and clever. I quite liked it.
Not only did I love the London setting and British actors, not to mention Mark Valley, but I loved the bad guys. They were idiots, not criminal masterminds. They murdered because they got backed into a corner or panicked; they weren’t artfully arranging bodies all over London. There were no uber-criminals or uber-criminal conspiracies, like Red John in the Mentalist or whoever killed Beckett’s mom in Castle.
Frankly, I liked that. It seems more realistic to me. Most violent criminals are not psychopathic geniuses but unpredictable, intoxicated, or otherwise chemically impaired fools. And to me, this stupidity and unpredictability is what makes a bad guy dangerous and interesting. Sure, pure evil is scary, but that’s not what I wanted to write at this point. Maybe one day, but right now, I’ll stick with unpredictable fools.