Bad Guy protagonist

I know I've read a book or two where the POV character (the antagonist) is actually the 'bad guy'... but I can't think of a single one right now.

Barry Eisler's Rain series: Killing Rain, RainStorm, Hard Rain
Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series

Lawrence Block's Hitman character whose name I totally forget

there are others.
Remind us, snarklings.


Anonymous said...

American Psycho comes to mind first, which I didn't read, but was a bestseller with movie deal. I never really liked the protagonist in Kiterunner, but I loved the book, which was unusual, and it's been a huge bestseller. I read the first thrid of The Corrections and couldn't feel any empathy for any of the characters, so I gave up, but the critics loved it and it sold a gazillion copies. (Although of all the readers I know, only two people liked that book and they LOVED it?!)

Mynx said...

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (fantasy series) would count, I'd think.

Anonymous said...

Walter Huff in Double Indemnity
Bigger Thomas in Native Son
Satan in Paradise Lost
Alex in A Clockwork Orange
Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair
Spud in Trainspotting
Emma in Emma

While many of these characters are not strictly villainous (though many are), none of them are likeable.

Oh, and I can't be the only one who wantes to slap Holden Caulfield. Can I?

Doghouse Reilly said...

Killer on the Road by James Elroy. The main character is a serial killer-written in first person.

I can't remember Bloch's assassin either, but Bernie Rhodenbarr is a burglar, does that count?

Colleen Gleason said...

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie.


Anonymous said...

Jim Thomson wrote a lot of books with villians as protogonists. In one the narrator even dies in the end. Population: 1280, The Nothing Man, The Killer Inside me - all focused on the villian. Charles Willeford has demented protagonists, but usually there were even worse villians. Nobody did the unreliable narrator better that Willeford.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence Block's hit man is named Keller. He also has a thief named Bernie Rhodenbarr. And Donald Westlake has hapless thief John Dortmunder. These and the Barry Eisler books are all great. Guess I like to root for the naughty one.

Janet McConnaughey said...

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov.

The narrator is smarmy and, we gradually learn, dead nuts.* The book is fascinating. It's ostensibly the narrator's exegesis of the long poem which opens the book.

The poem itself is excellent. It opens

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;
I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.

*Though, I learn, there are a number of different interpretations.

The Green Cedar said...

Screwtape in C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, so with you on the Holden Caulfield thing. Admirable book, outstanding characterisation – never, ever want to read it again.

roach said...

Poppy Z Brite's Exquisite Corpse has two serial killer protagonists.

Oh, and I can't be the only one who wantes to slap Holden Caulfield. Can I?

Nope, I'll get in line behind you when the slapping silly begins.

Harry Connolly said...

The Flashman books.

BobB said...

M. deSade
protag of turn of the screw
Hr Hyde
Tom Ripley?
these characters are written about in a great book called, The Nature of Evil, by Daryl Koehn
What do people think of the protagonist of The LAst Samurai, by Helen DeWitt?
or Fuckhead in Jesus' Son?

Anonymous said...

There are bad guys and bad guys. I'm writing a crime caper - a book where the protag commits a crime (a big drug deal) and the antag is a truly nasty criminal (vicious druglord). Hopefully my protag is likeable tho a "bad girl".

Ocean's Eleven is a film example of a crime caper. Elmore Leonard writes a different kind of crime caper - he really mixes it up, jumping from POV of cop, to likeable small time criminal, to horrible evil criminal.

Cheers, Beth

Jeff Meyerson said...

Harry C is right: George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series is simply the best. If you haven't read it, why not?

archer said...


Mozart's Don Giovanni, who spends the opera raping, murdering, and swindling, who gets his in the end, and who is by far the sexiest, wittiest, noblest, most admirable guy on the stage.

Harry Connolly said...

Jeff, folks probably haven't read them because we're supposed to be reading new books. That's how we keep up with what's (somewhat) current in the business.

Moi said...

FWIW, Thomas Covenant wasn't an antagonist. He was an anti-hero. Completely different animal.

Honestly, though, I don't see how ANY main character can be an antagonist, since my understanding of an antagonist is the person(s)/force that opposes the protagonist/main character/hero. FWIW, most of those I'm seeing in this list aren't antagonists--the stories are actually theirs, they're the heroes, even if they're not sterling quality people.

Berry said...

Don Westlake's "Dortmunder" isn't really a bad guy, for all he is a thief. Dortmunder is loyal, honest to his friends, and never uses serous violence.

However, Westlake's "Parker" character, written under the pseudonym "Richard Stark", most definitely is a bad guy.

Sherryl said...

Andrew Vacchs has written a number of novels with a main character called Burke. It's been a while since I read one but Burke was a guy who ran a lot of scams, lived on the dark side and killed people. But his underlying "thing" (a bit of a vigilante) was attacking child abusers. Does that make him an anti-hero?

Darlene Marshall said...

Serge Storms from Tim Dorsey's Florida books--Orange Crush, Triggerfish Twist, Florida Roadkill, etc. But for charming Florida serial killers, I prefer Jeff Lindsay's Dexter Morgan.

Anonymous said...

"White Jazz" by James Ellroy. Actually, most books by James Ellroy... no heroes, just various degrees of bad guy.

Steve said...

Donald Westlake's protagonist/narrator of The Ax, which is an underrated masterpiece.

Ahavah said...

Anonymous said...
Anonymous, so with you on the Holden Caulfield thing. Admirable book, outstanding characterisation – never, ever want to read it again.

Oh, good! I read it in right after high school and couldn't understand what the fuss was. Maybe I'd get it now, but at the time I thought, "If I wanted to listen to someone whine this much, I'd put the book down and go talk to my sister." LOL

Jacqueline Carey's new book, Banewreaker, did this. I found the beginning almost excruciatingly slow, but I continued because I was a big fan of her Kushiel's Legacy trilogy. She did do an admirable job of showing how 'evil' is really a matter of perception.