Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sympathy for the Devil

Jim Butcher once wrote, "No one is an unjust villain in his own mind." I believe those words, and I keep that maxim in mind as I write. I don't believe heroes or villains ever really define themselves as such. Humans are too complicated for that — and characters are, too.

When I was writing THE DAMAGE DONE, the character who most embodied this complexity to me was Tariq Lawrence. The book's protagonist, Lily Moore is forced to deal with Tariq, her sister's longtime on-again, off-again lover, as she searches for her sister. Of all the characters in the novel, Tariq is the one who truly gets under Lily's skin, making her question her own impulses and her willingness to do things she knows are wrong in the name of ultimately doing what's right.

Their conflict comes to a head after Lily and Tariq go to Long Island to, ah, talk to a woman who may be connected to the disappearance ("talk" is definitely a euphemism here). Afterwards, Lily believes that she sees Tariq for what he is: a villain willing to do anything to get what he wants:
Tariq and I didn’t speak for most of the drive back to the city. Just before the driver took us into the Midtown Tunnel, Tariq spoke. “Are you so appalled that you cannot even look at me anymore?”
I watched his reflection in the window. “Why did you kill that woman in Claudia’s apartment on New Year’s Eve?”
In the glass I saw his full mouth tighten into an angry line. “Now you think that I murdered her?”
“I’ve just seen you in action. I know how far you’ll go to find Claudia. You’d kill anyone who got in your way. It may have been an accident,” I remembered what Bruxton had said about the woman’s weakened heart, “but it was you.”
“How could I do that, Lily? I was out of the country.”
“Maybe you had one of your thugs do the dirty work. To make it look like she killed herself.” I turned to look him in the eye.
“That is really what you think?” He watched me, the reflection of the tunnel lights shimmering in his eyes like ghosts. It was uncomfortably intimate to sit next to him, the knowledge of what we’d both just done hanging in the air between us. “I suppose I cannot blame you, but I promise you, I do my own dirty work.”
“You’ve killed people,” I blurted out before I could censor myself. “Claudia told me.”
“Did she?” His voice was quiet but flat, without any trace of emotion. “Did she tell you the reason why?”
“Anyone in this world could kill, in the right set of circumstances. The question is, what circumstances?” I didn’t answer, and Tariq went on. “For profit? For passion? For revenge? To protect those whom you love? Tell me, Lily, are all of those reasons equivalent to you?”

Tariq's question to Lily reverberates throughout the book. So many of the characters in THE DAMAGE DONE do the wrong thing for what they believe are the right reasons. Every character has their justifications for what they do. Even if they're filled with regret afterwards, they tell themselves they had the right reasons at the time. None of the villains in the book — and there are several — look in the mirror and see themselves for what they are. But, then again, neither do the heroes.  

1 comment:

Rob Brunet said...

I like this, Hilary. You reminded me of a much tamer bit of criminality that I'll have to write up, about a friend's confession that he and his pals broke into our cottage one winter, for kicks -- which made perfect sense from his perspective, even if they would have targeted a different address had he known it was ours.