10 Terrible Book Characters We Love to Hate

From Patrick Bateman of AMERICAN PSYCHO to Nick and Amy Dunne in GONE GIRL, we have seen many unlikable, manipulative, and even downright evil literary characters capture the public’s imagination. At Off the Shelf, we’re not immune to the charms of some of these bad seeds, either. Here are several of our favorite novels featuring despicable, unpleasant, and just plain terrible characters.

What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal
by Zoë Heller

What happens when the line between friendship and fixation starts to blur? Zoë Heller explores this brilliantly in her acclaimed novel NOTES ON A SCANDAL. Barbara is obsessed with keeping her friendship with her young colleague Sheba. But Sheba’s actions soon take the two on a dark and twisted path toward self-destruction.

The Talented Mr. Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith

Tom Ripley, an enigmatic, suave, and sociopathic young man, is hired to bring a wealthy industrialist’s playboy son back from gallivanting in Italy. But Tom’s fascination soon evolves into a fatal fixation and reveals his talent for dark self-invention and self-preservation.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE reads like a haunted house story, but it is much darker than that. In this modern gothic tale, two reclusive, troubled, and unnerving sisters live in a labyrinthine house outside of town. Just what happened to the rest of the family? It’s a complicated and deadly secret.

Different Seasons
by Stephen King

If it were possible to rate Stephen King’s stories on a scale of darkness, you’d be hard-pressed to find one darker than “Apt Pupil” from his collection DIFFERENT SEASONS. Featuring a teenager obsessed with the Holocaust and a neighbor who is hiding his history in the SS, this is an absorbing exploration of perilous obsessions and the cruelty of humans.

Double Indemnity
by James M. Cain

The novel that inspired one of the greatest noir films of all time, DOUBLE INDEMNITY features a seductive femme fatale attempting to convince an insurance salesman to help her kill her husband. James M. Cain’s hard-boiled and edgy classic warns that you can’t always trust beauty.

Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy

Long considered his masterpiece, Cormac McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN is a violent, shocking, and epic Western unlike any other. Taking place in the borderlands between the United States and Mexico in the mid-1800s, the novel follows a teenager and his travels with a gang of scalp hunters who massacre Native Americans for profit and pleasure.

Zombie
by Joyce Carol Oates

ZOMBIE might be Joyce Carol Oates’s most distressing work of fiction. Written from the perspective of a sex offender who yearns to kill and craft his very own zombie, this disturbing novel effortlessly explores the twisted, evil desires of a psychopath.

Wise Blood
by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor’s haunting debut explores faith, redemption, family, and even God. When Hazel Motes returns from 4 years in the army, he’s determined to escape fate and his complicated feelings about religion. Of course, nothing goes as expected. Darkly comic and biting, this novel will stick with you long after you finish it.

Hidden Bodies
by Caroline Kepnes

Joe, the obsessive and terrifying killer in YOU, returns in the hypnotic and insidious sequel, HIDDEN BODIES. When he moves to Los Angeles, he’s determined to keep his dark and murderous past in New York. But the problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way…

Brighton Rock
by Graham Greene

Devoid of compassion, teenage gangster Pinkie Brown believes he is the embodiment of evil. With razors and sulfuric acid, he indifferently kills his enemies—including Hale, a reporter who threatened the livelihood of the mob. But Pinkie wasn’t prepared for Ida Arnold, an angel who is doggedly determined to avenge Hale’s murder.