“Sharon, you never have any real villains in your novels” or “Your bad guys are never punished.”
These are the two most prevalent comments made about the lawbreakers in my previous murder mysteries.
In Better Dead Than Bred, I wanted my villain, my antagonist, to match my hero in his adherence to his personal ethos, no matter how twisted. I wanted him to be compelling, able to compete for the interest of the reader, no matter how evil. Because evil is compelling. Otherwise, how could good people be tempted to do bad things? The Old Testament of the Christian Bible is structured upon a compelling Prince of Darkness. Milton’s Paradise Lost presents a magnificent Satan, a son of of God who disagreed with his Father and was consequently hurled out of heaven. Furious at his cataclysmic rebuke, Satan devotes his existence to luring people into sin in order to destroy the Garden of Eden his Father has created. Satan easily corrupted Eve. In order to corrupt a man as morally and ethically good as my protagonist, Sean Bergmann, I needed to create a devil as cunning and as magnificent as Satan.
Cooper Newsome is not Satan but he deludes himself into thinking he is. He is gorgeous, meticulously tailored, intellectually astute, and morally empty. But he is ethically robust according to his own ethos. He is true to himself as he has created himself. To blur and confuse his evil nature, I have given him two backstories, both of which are partly true and partly false. What is the reader to believe? What is Sean Bergmann to believe?
Can the devil be destroyed? Is evil ever destroyed? Does Cooper Newsome deserve to be punished? Absolutely! But does Cooper Newsome live in an absolute world?
These are some of the questions I have tried to raise in this story of a good man (almost) destroyed by his need for revenge, a need planted in him by Cooper Newsome. I hope you will enjoy teasing out answers to these questions as you read Better Dead Than Bred.
Sharon J. Hamilton has taught English in every grade, from one through master’s level, during her forty-year career. She earned a PhD in language and literacy at the University of London and has participated in writing seminars at Corpus Cristi College, Oxford, and the Faber Academy, London.