The Most Terrifying Villains In Literature

The Most Terrifying Villains In Literature

James Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes

Described by Sherlock himself as the “Napoleon of crime”, Professor James Moriarty is a criminal mastermind. Well-educated and endowed with a “phenomenal mathematical faculty”, he also has a fiery temper and one mission: to bring down everyone’s favourite detective. When Holmes almost delivers a fatal blow to Moriarty’s criminal ring, Moriarty threatens him to such an extent that he is forced to flee to continental Europe. His vengeance doesn’t stop there, though; Moriarty follows him, with the pursuit ending on top of the Reichenbach Falls – and we all know what happens there…

Clara Rinker from the ‘Prey’ series

Hit-woman extraordinaire, Clara Rinker is one of our favourite of John Sandford’s many fine villains. She is extremely clever, meticulously cautious, and she plans her murders for speed and efficiency. A complex character, you find yourself sympathising with her but being completely petrified of her at the same time. She is bold and brutal, but her killings are always calculated. Unlike a serial killer, she doesn’t murder for pleasure – she does it because she is very good at it. And like a chameleon, Clara has the ability to blend in, making it extremely hard for the FBI to track her down.

Count Fosco from The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, published in 1859, is considered to be one of the very first mystery novels – so that makes Count Fosco one of the most ancient villains in literature. Said to have paved the way for the common-type, cultured criminal villain, Fosco is the original. A grossly obese Italian with an elusive past, he’s also eccentric, pompous and suave, but at the same time unimaginably intelligent and menacing. In 1862, Margaret Oliphant reviewed The Woman in White, claiming: “no villain of the century… comes within a hundred miles of him”. We certainly wouldn’t, but we wonder if any of these other villains would dare to take on Count Fosco?

The Watchmaker from Lincoln Rhyme series

Claimed by many to be one of the most terrifying and mesmerising ‘bad guys’ to come from the mind of Jeffery Deaver, the Watchmaker is one of the few criminals to have eluded the net of Lincoln Rhyme – a world-class forensic criminologist. The Watchmaker has an obsession with time (hence the name), which drives him to forge his plan of bloodshed with the precision of a fine timepiece. In The Cold Moon, the plot contains many twists and turns – paced almost in real-time – as the reader begins to understand that the Watchmaker may be not only be a brutal lunatic, but a far more calculating villain than anyone could have predicted…

Annie Wilkes from Misery

Stephen King’s Misery is one of his most terrifying novels, and that’s down to one woman: Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates in the film adaptation). She rescues popular author Paul Sheldon when he is trapped in the snow and is his number one fan. But, now that she’s got him in her care, will she ever let him go? There’s one word to sum up Annie Wilkes: petrifying. Some of the scenes in this book will stay with you for a long time. In no uncertain terms, Annie Wilkes is a nightmare.

Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr Ripley

The scariest thing about Tom Ripley, from psychological thriller The Talented Mr Ripley, is that he doesn’t for one moment see himself as bad, and the wonderful thing about this book is that Ripley is simultaneously the protagonist and the antagonist. Ripley is the ultimate bad boy sociopath; he forms an obsession with Dickie Greenleaf, who is living the highlife in Italy and what follows is a tale of obsession, lying and betrayal. At one point in the book, Ripley lists all his many talents. What he fails to miss off his resume, however, is his readiness to kill anyone who obstructs his path to happiness…

Which crime villain would you pick as the scariest? Let us know in the comments box below.