Mad scientists, gangsters, con artists, hitmen, vixens, megalomaniacs, and supernaturally evil foes — where would literature be without them? Hundreds of thousands of books will enjoy publication this year, but let's be honest: the most alluring are the ones with awesome bad guys. To save you some clicking around Amazon, here are the books that feature fictional (and frighteningly real) antagonists we look forward to meeting in 2014.
There are plenty of blood-curdling characters in Chris Abani's The Secret History of Las Vegas, which kicks off with a spate of murders in Sin City. Salazar, a detective who wants to solve the case before he retires, quickly arrests a pair of conjoined twins named Water and Fire — but instead of confessing, they prove coldly enigmatic. Dr. Sunil Singh, a specialist in psychopaths, is brought in to study them, but soon finds himself hunted by an even more dangerous assassin — one who may know something about Singh's own dark past.
For a less-pulpy look at madness, you might pick up The Brunist Day of Wrath — postmodern giant Robert Coover's long-awaited, 1,100-page sequel to The Origin of the Brunists, which ought to feature no shortage of conniving and sleazy fundamentalists.
Pushing into even weirder territory, there's sci-fi's most prolific wunderkind and genre-inventor Nick Harkaway, whose latest novel, Tigerman, will transport us to the island of Mancreu. Slated for destruction due to mysterious toxic pollution, the former British colony is a giant black market, rife with "money laundering operations, drug factories and deniable torture centres," as well as the colorful bad guys who operate them.
Chang Rae-Lee's similarly dystopian On Such a Full Sea imagines an Elysium-like America where callous wealthy elites subsist on the backbreaking labor of the lower class. Escape from the caste system comes at a price: the scantly governed outer lands have given rise to bands of marauding criminals.
For the more historically-inclined, Emma Donoghue's Frog Music takes as inspiration a still-unsolved murder in 1876 San Francisco. Blanche Beunon, who survives a shooting that her friend doesn't, will try to bring the mysterious killer to justice — but there's every chance he'll find her first.
Meanwhile, a 100% non-fictional work sounds like the scariest thing we'll encounter all year: Walter Kirn, author of Up in the Air (among other novels), has written a book that's being touted as the heir to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and its subject as a real-life Mr. Ripley. Blood Will Out opens in 1998, when Kirn is struggling to stay afloat in a hard life, and happens to meet "a secretive young banker and art collector" named Clark Rockefeller — by way of the Internet, no less. In the course of their fifteen-year friendship, the eccentric Rockefeller is ultimately exposed as "a brazen serial impostor, child kidnapper, and brutal murderer," a "psychopath masquerading as a gentleman" who becomes a fugitive from the law. The most chilling detail? He patterned his predatory crimes on books and movies. Kirn, the artist, will have to wonder at his complicity in Rockefeller's fantasies, and how such a monster was able to deceive him.
Think you can stomach all these baddies? Good, I thought so. Just don't read about them right before bed — not worth the nightmares.
Image by Michael Erazo-Kase
Miles Klee is a reporter for The Daily Dot and author of the novel Ivyland, a finalist in the 2013 Tournament of Books. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Lapham's Quarterly, BlackBook, The Awl, Salon, The Village Voice, The New York Observer and elsewhere.