The Crime Readers' Association

Can baddies be too goodie? By P.J Nash (Paul Morris)

28th September 2015

Crime fiction is populated with cops and robbers. Of course the good guys and gals hog most of the limelight. But there wouldn’t be much point building up a multi-faceted character on the one hand for them to be faced with a shambling, incompetent villan who left their DNA and finger prints all over the crime scene, or razzed off in the getaway car only to run out of petrol after a few miles.

No, like all formulas, the top cop needs a premier league baddie to tax their skills of deduction, test their scrapping and shooting skills and most of all make the plot got with a bang. The baddie is the catalyst to the whole book. The baddie in their contemporary form, it could be argued, is Moriarty who is the arch-enemy of Conan Doyle’s consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes. The ‘Napoleon of Crime’, Professor James Moriarty is no workaday crim. He’s a master of organised crime, taking a percentage of other criminals in return for his protection. A real smooth operator. Of course his most famous moment comes when he and Holmes pitch into the Reichenbach Falls. Professor Moriarty is the blueprint for the modern crime baddie.

In retrospect Moriarty struck the perfect balance, making Holmes the superior in the end, but with the Professor giving him a good run for his money. So, the question to pose is ‘Can baddies be too good?’ In some cases I would say yes. Take the psychopathic but superbly cultured and urbane Dr Hannibal Lecter. He totally outshines Starling and Co. Look how the spin-off series is called ‘Hannibal’ and not ‘Starling’. This isn’t criticism of Thomas Harris. I’m a massive fan of his work. Just an observation that sometimes the baddie can be too good.

But the relationship between Starling and Lecter also broaches the other interesting part of the crime genre. The interplay between the detectives/cops and their relationship with less than savoury characters in their efforts to solve their cases. Dancing in the shadows is part of the day job. Ian Rankin’s jaded Detective Inspector John Rebus has his ongoing relationship with Big Ger Cafferty
the Edinburgh gangster who he maintains a peculiar relationship with. Rebus and his dancing in the, shadows seems to be a case of ‘Better the Devil you Know’. Being a good cop seems to suggest occasionally spinning your moral compass and also accepting you can’t right all the wrongs and lock up all the bad guys.

And let’s be honest the good guys n’ gals are not exactly saints are they. The crime genre is packed with the cocaine consuming Sherlock Holmes and boozy misanthropes like Morse and Rebus. But let’s face it, if they were all happily marries tee teetotallers who spent their weekends at church and Ikea, we probably wouldn’t be reading the books for very long.

PAUL MORRIS  who writes under the pen name P.J Nash was born in the English Midlands. He studied English and History at university and has worked in a number of jobs from construction labourer to proofreader and TEFL teacher.  He is the author of The Hunt for the Dingo (The James & Sandersen Files) a police thriller set in Australia. He is currently working on the follow up novel Dark Angel .

Twitter: @PJNashwriter


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