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Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel Revised and Expanded Edition, 2nd Edition by Sara Paretsky, Hallie Ephron

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Chapter 4

The Villain

“I do empathise with people who are driven by dreadful impulses. I think to be driven to want to kill must be such a terrible burden. I try, and I think I succeed, in making my readers feel sorry for my psychopaths, because I do.”

—Ruth Rendell

As any mystery reader knows, today’s villain is no Snidely Whiplash, standing in broad daylight, twirling his moustache and sneering. Any character who looks that nefarious will almost certainly turn out to be innocent.

Readers are delighted when the bad guy was hiding in plain sight, an innocuous-looking character who cleverly conceals his true self, luring trusting victims and then snaring them in a death trap. But “the butler did it” won’t wash in a modern mystery. Minor characters ...

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