Gerry here. It’s been bothering me all week, so much so that I keep Googling this guy’s name, and watching as, like a slow-motion car wreck, the hits come up from all over the world.
He’s accused of multiple murders. He’s done some bad things in the past as well, creepy crimes committed when he was just a teenager, the kind of stuff that make you wonder how someone so young could be so bad.
If I included his name here, you’d say, Oh, my gosh. That guy? If I tagged this post with his name, the views would be off the chart. But I won’t. Not to protect him. Sadly, he’s made his jail-cell bed and may sleep in it for decades. No, I’m not worried about him. But I knew his father pretty well. And I don’t want to add to his pain.
I knew the father professionally. When I was a columnist he was one of my regular stops. He was in law enforcement and I’d drop by his office unannounced and he’d put aside what he was doing and offer a chair. I’d sit and we’d chat about bad guys we knew, the latest crimes. More interestingly, we’d talk about why people ended up in his custody and my column. What was it about human nature that made some people unable to obey the law?
This guy was very smart. He’d known hundreds of convicted felons, criminals of all shapes and sizes. He was interested in them as people, didn’t judge them out of hand. He tried to get them to straighten out — drug rehab, AA, tough love, whatever worked. And then his own son turned out to be difficult, then incorrigible, then seriously messed up.
By the time the son became notorious this guy and I had both moved on. He moved away; I Ieft newspapers. But I always remembered the talks we had and this week his son was in the news again, charged with a big-time crime. I read the story. I felt for his dad.
Which brings me to the point for this crimewriters post. We invent all sorts of bad guys and readers consider them. Some bad guys are bit players. Some have leading roles. But most of the time we, their creators, have to consider how and why bad guys get to be that way? At what point did they turn away from good and never look back? Crappy upbringing? Abused as kids. Neglected. Drug addiction? Hanging with the wrong crowd? Or just genetically pre-disposed to evil. Bad judgment. Violence.
The hero of my latest book, rookie cop Brandon Blake in PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE, doesn’t worry about any of this. “I don’t care why they did it,” he says. “I just want to lock them up.”
Writers have to care, and while I don’t have any answers to these questions, I suspect it’s a combination of all of the above. But it’s something for all of us who write and read this genre, and trade in the currency of good and evil, to consider. Why do our villainous characters do what they do? And if you say it’s simply because they’re bad guys, you might want to think a little harder.