The Root of Evil. The Authors Collection
May 30, 2013
One of my beliefs about evil people is that they rarely view themselves as being evil. True, there are some noteworthy exceptions. Those would be the psychopaths.
I remember reading a few months ago about a guy in Alaska who was caught after he kidnapped and murdered a young woman from her job at coffee hut drive-through business. Once apprehended he then confessed to having killed several people and doing it in very methodical fashion. He would visit places, often out of state, and leave caches of supplies and weapons. He would return a year or two later and commit the crimes. The actual victims often were selected randomly and based on circumstance. But the fact that he was going to kill someone was based on a cold, hard plan.
He said for a long time he assumed everyone had the same murderous tendencies he had but wore a different public face. (He had a responsible mainstream job as a building contractor. ) Then, he realized that he really was different. He truly was evil.
But people like him are the exception. If you sat down and had a candid conversation even with the top echelon of Nazi war criminals, each would have a rationale and justification for what they are doing. None would say, in essence, “I’m an evil person.” Rather, they would point to what they perceive to be a noble goal of glorifying country or company, or the more mundane objectives of keeping a job, getting a promotion or providing for their families.
For this reason, I try to build a lot of that ambiguity into the ‘villains’ in my mystery thrillers. In Divine Fury, the second in the Enzo Lee series, a religious man who tries to sabotage the campaign of a gay candidate for governor believes he is saving the world from its sinful self. Then he lets himself almost passively be used as an ally of violent people. He doesn’t initiate the acts, but facilitate them by lending his moral support with barely any effort. A twisted war veteran similarly believes that his violence is a proper response to all the injustices he has suffered and almost feels duty-bound to follow his course.
In Project Moses, the first Enzo Lee book, the corporate executive who sells technology used for bioterrorism justifies his actions by saying that if he didn’t provide this technology others would. He compares himself to arms dealers and argues that he is merely following the dictates of Wall Street.
Anyone who has spent much time in a corporate work environment and seen the changing of top management probably has witnessed how malleable people can be in trying to ingratiate themselves with their superiors. Abuse at the top gets passed down the chain almost as a reflex. It’s reminiscent of a famous psychological study in which test subjects were arbitrarily placed in the roles of prisoners and guards. They had to cut short the experiment because people embraced the roles so quickly and without restraint that they were concerned about the ‘guards’ harming the ‘prisoners.’
So, although I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time psychoanalyzing every henchman with a gun in my books, I do devote some attention to the people further up the chain. For me, failing to explain how they’ve arrived at where they are and how they justify their actions is a loose end. Some readers say they appreciate this. When they can picture themselves in the villain’s shoes – given the particular circumstances – the evil becomes particularly chilling.
Robert B. Lowe is the author of the Enzo Lee Mystery Thriller Series about a San Francisco reporter pulled out of his comfortable life writing light features who is drawn into scandals and conspiracies. Please click the book cover to read more about Robert B. Lowe’s thriller on Amazon.