Nick Brooks’ top 10 literary murderers

Nick Brooks’ first novel, The Good Death, is a murder mystery with a difference. Less whodunit than who-am-I, the murderer is pursued more keenly by his conscience than by the police.

“Literary killers hold a deep fascination for us, taking grip of the imagination when other forms of writerly voyeurism have long since faded. During the writing of my own novel, The Good Death, a number of the works on this list occupied my thoughts, and I could easily have included many more novels and stories, settling instead for the ones that have been most influential on a personal level, the ones that stick with me still, many years after my first bruising encounters with them. It is no exaggeration to say that the characters who inhabit these works seem to exert an undue – possibly malign – power upon the psyche of the reader who stumbles, hapless, upon them. Since the best is often the enemy of the good, this list has been compiled with no particular order.”

1. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

Bastard offspring of Thatcher and Reagan, Patrick Bateman kills with the same care and attention he might pay to his early morning shaving routine, gym workout or his collection of Huey Lewis and The News albums. Vilified on publication, American Psycho set a new benchmark for horror and humour.

2. Francie Brady, The Butcher Boy, Patrick McCabe

Francie Brady is one of the true Emerald germs of Ireland. Discovered at the book’s opening hiding under a bush on account of “what he done on Mrs Nugent.” Neglected, humiliated and abused, Francie slips further and further from sanity until he becomes the “pig boy” others fear, and the nemesis of Mrs Nugent, who embodies everything Francie despises.

3. George Harvey Bone, Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton

Lumbering drunk George comes undone though his love for Netta in the Earl’s Court of 1939, with the added help of a brain that is inclined to “click!” out of kilter. A study in psychosis, Hamilton’s novel has surely one of the finest closing lines in all of literature.

4. Mersault, The Outsider, Albert Camus

Mersault is the character who inspired a thousand budding existentialists, and who killed because the sun was shining in his eyes. The book’s sense of its own moral purpose is what gives the story weight, but it is Camus’ prose, cool as blown Gauloise smoke that carries us along.

5. Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Starving and feverish in his yellowing St Petersburg room, Raskolnikov murders a moneylender and her daughter to set himself apart from the venal masses and make himself a superman. Then he begins to have his doubts. Perhaps one of the greatest novels ever written, and certainly one of the most influential.

6. Robert Wringhim, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg

Eerie, surreal and hilarious, Hogg’s character has wrestled with God and, as one of the Elect, believes his name to be “Justified” in his maker’s book, and so sets about “cutting off sinners with the sword.” Accompanied everywhere by the mysterious Gil-Martin, Wringhim is a heinous coward, and the novel a supernatural tour-de-force.

7. Macbeth, William Shakespeare

The original and best?

8. Joe, Young Adam, Alexander Trocci

Joe, the narrator, works on a barge with Leslie, Ella, and their young son, when they discover a girl’s body floating in the water. Only later do we find out Joe’s connection to the dead girl. Much influenced by Camus’ novel, The Outsider, Young Adam is disturbing and mysterious, an odd admixture of ambivalence and opacity still capable of unsettling the reader.

9. The creature, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Perhaps the most abject of all literary characters, Frankenstein’s monster is not a born killer but a made one. Driven to extremes of despair by the rejection of his “father”, Frankenstein, the creature vows that if it cannot be loved as men are, then it shall take from its creator what he loves – by murder. So begins the creature’s desolation of Frankenstein’s world, and is the birth of one of literature’s true icons.

10. Humbert Humbert, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Unlike other killers on the list, Humbert Humbert kills so that he can keep Lolita his. At once monstrous and urbane, erudite and depraved, Humbert’s dazzling power over his written narrative is as persuasive as his imagination is perverted, and it is to our own shame that we find ourselves siding with a paedophile over his victim.


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