Recently my son Stan (5) discovered something it took me until I was about 15 to figure out. He’d been playing a lot of Lego Batman on his Nintendo DS over the Easter break – I know I’m a model parent – and I noticed he’d stopped playing as Batman or Robin and switched to the Riddler, ClayFace and the Joker. When I asked why, his fingers kept twitching on the keys and his unblinking eyes never left the screen. ‘Bad guys are cool,’ he said.
Of course he’s right. Bad guys are cool and thrillers and crime novels exploit this innate attraction to the darker shades of the human animal. As readers we love to sink into the murky swamp of a dark story and peer over the shoulders of monsters as they go about their terrible deeds in the tense and hopeful knowledge that good will ultimately triumph and the monsters will be slain so that order is restored by the last page. As writers we spend more time in this swamp than most, mining the darker parts of ourselves in order to breathe life into the villains that will in turn breathe life into our stories.