As a romantic suspense author, I charge myself with creating chilling villains that become real to me and hopefully to my readers. The smarter the villain, the more difficult he or she is to outwit.
But in real life, villains are rarely members of the intelligentsia! I get some great insights into bad guys from my husband, who knows many of them well. He's worked for our county jail (one of the largest in the US) for the past twenty plus years. He's had conversations with some of the worst.
A particularly unsettling thought is all the mentally off-balance people in our midst. Someone we know personally can be a sadistic antisocial, someone who sees himself as above everyone else and takes pleasure in hurting other people. Dependent personalities feel that they need something or someone so much that they will cross any boundaries—including committing murder—to get it.
Many murderers are mentally ill in one way or another but some of the most frightening killers are perfectly sane. They don't grab a lot of headlines. They don't have a group of misguided fans who hope to marry them before they are executed. The most chilling villains are those we don't hear a lot about. They are the thugs who don't think twice about killing a mother and her young children. They are the gang members who challenge their new recruits to knock off a passerby as part of their initiation. And most scary of all, they can be the man or woman next door.
In my upcoming Carina book, Protective Custody, the villain has a Narcissistic Personality. He thinks he's above everyone else and has a total lack of empathy. When the heroine gets in his way, he decides she is disposable. But he enjoys toying with her, so he doesn't want to just kill her quickly and be done with it. I think he's pretty darn frightening.
Who are some of your favorite villains? Do you prefer mentally off balance bad guys or perfectly, chillingly sane ones?