Book Club Nominees

5 Books With Dirtbags in the Leading Role

by @QueensEnglish,  curator of HOWLS book club nominees for June’s “Dirtbag Protag” category

Ah, good ol’ dirtbags. Bastards, dickheads, maniacs. Whether we’re talking Hannibal Lector, The Punisher, or Elon Musk, there’s an undeniable appeal to characters who cross moral boundaries with aplomb. This week I’d like to explore that archetype a little, get to know various interpretations of the antihero and the villain-protagonist. Whether a troubled but ultimately good person with an ends-justify-the-means mentality or a straight up psychopath, characters with edge are fun and fascinating in equal measure.

Cover of True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik. Cover shows a newspaper with the title Grindhouse Press and the headline story True Crime, as well as images of a woman's body floating in water and a body covered with a sheet.

True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik

Suzy and her brother, Lim, live with their abusive mother in a town where the stars don’t shine at night. Once the abuse becomes too much to handle, the two siblings embark on a sordid cross-country murder spree beginning with their mom. As the murder tally rises, Suzy’s mental state spirals into irredeemable madness.

This book ticks all the boxes for me. Dark, troubled, violent protagonists going on a rampage is what this category is all about. I’ve yet to read it myself, but reviews are calling it brutal and comparing it to Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. One Amazon reviewer writes; ‘I can honestly say that I felt battered and abused by the time I’d finished this book’. Perfection.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Invisible Man by H G Wells. Cover shows a suit and tie with a hat floating above it, as if an invisible person is wearing them.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

This masterpiece of science fiction is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows.

This is a story of a man who absolutely flips his lid. One of literature’s finest mad scientists, a villain protagonist and monster whose story treads the line between science fiction and horror as well as Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Gone to See the River Man. Cover shows a small rowboat in a river with trees lining the river. The entire image is tones or orange and red.

Gone to See the River Man by Kristopher Triana

Super fans. Groupies. Stalkers. These people will give anything for the idols they worship, be they rock stars, actors or authors. Or even serial killers. Lori is just such a fanatic. Her obsession is with Edmund Cox, a man of sadistic cruelty who butchered more than twenty women. She’s gone so far as to forge a relationship with him, visiting him in prison and sending him letters on a regular basis. She will do anything to get close to him, so when he gives her a task, she eagerly accepts it. She has no idea of the horror that awaits her.

This book just sounds so dark, so sinister. What sort of person devotes themself to a serial killer? Some kind of dirtbag, that’s for sure. There are plenty of novels about murderers, not as many about the women that love them. I’d not heard of this book before but I’m really quite excited about it.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Perfume by Patrick Suskind. Cover shows a renaissance-style painting of a naked woman. She appears to be asleep and her arm hangs down, obscuring part of her face.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift—an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume”—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.

There’s something perversely compelling about the idea of a person so obsessed with sensory gratification that other human lives become inconsequential. Exploring such depraved extremes is hardly a jolly affair, but it is interesting, important even.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. Cover shows a dark dirt road or trail at night. At the sides of the road appear to be grasses. The road is illuminated by what seems to be a single light.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard–a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape–haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail.  While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance.

Far from the typical charming psychopath, this is a story about a killer who simply isn’t compatible with every-day people. A misfit among misfits. He never had a chance.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik won the poll. Join HOWL Society on Monday, June 14, 2021 to begin discussion!

*The HOWLS affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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