It's not all Jane Eyre out there. In her sweet, honorable, slightly passive-aggressive way, Jane was as perfect as a protagonist can get while remaining interesting; in fact, she's one of my favorites. But most characters are more morally ambiguous. And some are just plain bad – somewhere between nasty and bad to the bone.
In my new novel, "Goldberg Variations," I have four narrators. One, Gloria Goldberg Garrison, is a real stinker. Not evil, mind you, but cruel to amuse herself and others. She’s the sort who seeks out your most sensitive area so she can know precisely where to stick in the shiv. Gloria made me uncomfortable enough that during the writing I had to soothe myself by thinking: Hey, Dostoevsky probably didn't think Raskolnikov was a sweetheart.
What do these bad guys offer us? A chance to pray for their redemption? A safe way to relish sin? I’ve liked or loved so many novels that had main characters who either made morally questionable choices or were downright evil. The entire noir genre is theirs.
Still, beyond the Chandlers and the Hammetts, here are my “Naughty Nine,” first-rate novels that feature a gamut of no-goodniks.