There’s no way around it. This is going to be one great big spoiler. So here’s the deal. I’ll unveil the title of the book with my choice of best villain, give you a nice big picture of something pretty, and then all you purists can go off. If you don’t mind, by all means, continue reading! If you hate spoilers both the people who perpetrate them and the “ruined” stories, go read the book and come back for my reasoning.
My pick for wretched villainy belongs to Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit.
There’s such a sweet story associated with the book for me. Melpomene came down to visit me a few winters ago while I was in graduate school. I planned the food, but I didn’t plan any activities, so we wandered about the town. We found a bookstore and both purchased a nice little murder mystery. Then we dashed through the rain to a wonderful coffee shop where we sat and had a competition. We had a speed reading competition! We just sat there and drank coffee and read like maniacs without speaking for 3 hours. Melpomene won by 3 pages and 7 minutes. It is a wonderful memory.
Now. Stop yer reading, me scurvy, picky, spoiler hating mateys.
Now isn’t that lovely? Apparently that’s a Wisteria tunnel. Purloined shamelessly from Google images.
In The Man in the Brown Suit , as with many of Agatha Christie’s villians, Sir Eustace Pedlar is the least sinister and quite frankly rather loveable. In fact, he is one of the narrators of the story. Through his diary, you see the story from his point of view. And from his perspective, he is not evil. He is a loveable, wealthy, clever business man. And that is what you see through the leading lady’s eyes as well. His secretary, now that man is creepy. He has a solemn face, “like that of a Quincecento poisoner.” Oh, and the man of many disguises, who captures Our Heroine and tries to kill her (at least twice). They are to be suspected!
But in the end, after a wonderful denouement, you discover that all along the mysterious evil presence is Sir Eustace himself. He portrays himself as charming and believes himself to be so but he is directly responsible for the murder of 3 people, the attempt to kill the woman he “loves”, the theft of diamonds, and the spark of fire that begins a gory revolution in Africa.
So this is my idea of villainy. It is so deeply treacherous that the villain himself does not think he is evil. He is so far gone, he has no guilt. No longer is this villain human, for he has forfeited the best part of his soul.
There are a lot of other traitorous smiling villains that I considered. For pure evil, though, I have to suggest you look to the eponymous character of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. That villain manages to destroy lives from beyond the grave. Talented!