The best books that feature villains you can’t stop thinking about

The Books I Picked & Why


By Dave Zeltserman

Book cover of Pariah

Why this book?

The author plays a clever trick on us to get us to identify with the villain in this book. It’s effective and horrifying, and results, in large part, in our seeing the world through a monster’s self-serving eyes. It’s not a pretty picture, but there’s no escape for his unfortunate victims, or for us. He reminds me of Bridget in the movie The Last Seduction, in the way some predators seem like a completely different species from us, their prey, while we assume they’re human, just like us. This is noir, only with an homme fatale (and a bit of publishing industry satire thrown in).

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Come Closer

By Sara Gran

Book cover of Come Closer

Why this book?

She’s either possessed by a particularly vicious spirit or just plain insane. Either way, I’ve never been able to forget the terrible things she does, although I read this so long ago, I can’t remember her name. It’s not gory; it’s eerie, and most of the horror is suggested rather than shown, meaning our own imaginations contribute to the impact. Ghost story or psychological horror, you decide.

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By Jen Sacks

Book cover of Nice

Why this book?

Now these two main characters, both “villains,” are refreshingly human. When the evil archeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark tells Indy that it would only take a small push to move him out of the light, this is the kind of thing he meant. For the woman in the story, being bad is an almost understandable way to cope with the particular situation she faces (that we’ve all faced). For the man, he’s been in the dark for a long time, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t need love. A serial killer/black comedy/love story about a hired killer and an inspired killer. Is it a match made in Heaven, or Hell?

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The Girl With All the Gifts

By M.R. Carey

Book cover of The Girl With All the Gifts

Why this book?

They never use the word “zombie,” but the main character might be one. And you’re on her side all the way. Some of the humans are so much worse. While others, though flawed, aim to be better. Melanie, still just a child, may save the world or be the instrument of its destruction. I consider this a perfect book: imaginative, tense, but not unbearably so, with several characters you can really sink your teeth into, and a heroine/villain you can’t help loving. The ending is exactly right.

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The Hunter

By Richard Stark

Book cover of The Hunter

Why this book?

Parker (first name? last name? nobody knows) is the classic ruthless antihero. We pretty much see the world from his perspective, but we never get inside his head. Trust me; you wouldn’t want to. But we can’t help rooting for him as he makes his vengeful way (in this first of a series) from nearly dead to the “one guy” at the top who can give him back his money (that he stole previously). They’ve tried to capture him on film. Mel Gibson’s Payback wasn’t too bad, but Lee Marvin in Point Blank comes the closest in spirit (though they softened his actions in that flick; in the books, people don’t just accidentally die around him; he kills when killing is called for). This is hard-boiled, brutally spare crime fiction at its best.

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