Here, 10 top crime writers reveal their heroes and villains, ahead of the Bloody Scotland festival

Chris Brookmyre
HERO: Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

What makes Buffy so engaging is that her superpowers are no real defence against the true demons in her life, the ones we are all battling as we grow up. People often cite her as an example of a strong female character, but it’s her weakness that makes her memorable, her vulnerability that we relate to. Her instincts are often wrong, which makes it all the more satisfying when she triumphs despite herself.

VILLAIN: Hans Gruber, Die Hard.

The late Alan Rickman said of his legendary portrayal that when he read the script, he saw that it was going to be a very noisy film, and so to make his character stand out, he would be a contrast to that. In Hans, he thus gave us a man of such quiet calm, control and resourcefulness that he seems as charming as he is formidable. Part of you always wants him to get away with it.

Marisa Haetzman (writing as Ambrose Parry)
HERO: Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly.

Smuggler, outlaw, pirate, mercenary, the captain of Serenity ended up on the losing side of a bloody civil war, but it didn’t make him bitter or cynical. Instead it gives him an intriguingly erratic moral compass with which to navigate a dangerous universe. He is selflessly loyal to his crew, always on the side of the underdog, and a constant thorn in the flesh of authority. As he succinctly puts it, “I aim to misbehave”.

VILLAIN: Begbie, Trainspotting.

Francis Begbie is the most terrifying villain in all literature, because he is the most realistic depiction of a psychopathic personality. He is far more chilling than the grand guignol of a Hannibal Lecter because of the mundane, self-justifying logic and relentless unfocused anger that drives him. You’re unlikely to meet a Sauron or a Darth Vader walking down your street, but you might very well meet a Begbie, and that’s what’s truly scary.

Lin Anderson
HERO: Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The book I wish I had written. A coming of age, a small town mystery, a detective novel, and a court scene all in one story.

VILLAIN: Currently Villanelle from TV’s Killing Eve. A female psychopath who we bizarrely root for, while we abhor her crimes. We want the bad girl to make good.

Craig Robertson
HERO: I have a bit of a problem with conventional heroes so I’m going to choose a character who is, usually, on the other side of the law. Bernie Rhodenbarr is a burglar and is the protagonist of a series of New York-based novels by the always brilliant Laurence Block. Bernie steals things but, hey, he’s got a good heart. And he likes books, single malts and his cat, so lay off. He is also surprisingly adept at stumbling across – and solving – murders.

VILLAIN: My chosen literary hero is a crook so it’s only right and suitably perverse that my favourite villain is a cop. Captain Dudley Smith of the LAPD has blackened the pages of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet and two standalone novels. Smith is an irresistibly unscrupulous and ruthless thug whose rap sheet includes corruption, murder, theft and infanticide. This is a man with no redeeming features other than his Irish tenor brogue. He is bad to the bone and beyond.

Abir Mukherjee

HERO: The larger than life hero isn’t for me. You can keep your six foot five, muscle-bound fighting-machine or your genius with an IQ of 195 who can deduce everything about a villain, from his motive, to the colour of his underwear, simply from a warm cigarette butt. No, I like my heroes chipped, flawed, compromised and generally bashed around a bit. And for me, no one fits that bill better than Bernie Gunther, the wonderful 1930s German detective created by the late Philip Kerr. Bernie is a tough, sardonic policeman with an eye for the ladies and a hatred of fascists. He’s the perfect anti-hero and a great window into the world of the Nazis.

VILLAIN: Quite often it’s the villain, rather than the hero, who is the most interesting character in a book. A well-drawn villain can make you think, make you see things from different perspectives or angles you’d never considered before and send you down a rabbit hole. Villains can also chill your blood, but there are very few which, I think, do both. For me, the stand-out has to be Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter. He’s a respected forensic psychiatrist, but also a cannibalistic serial killer. Every brush with Lecter – on the page or on screen – is charged with electricity. Very few fictional characters have evoked as visceral a reaction in me as the good Dr Lecter.

Shari Lapena

HERO: My favourite literary hero at the moment is Anthony Horowitz, in his new detective series which so far includes The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. Anthony Horowitz the writer is himself a character in his own books, a sort of hapless anti-hero dragged into solving crimes by the unlikable Hawthorne, a disgraced police detective he met when he was a consultant on a TV show. They’re an unlikely duo and it’s great fun and often hilarious to watch Anthony, as Hawthorne’s reluctant biographer, try to solve crimes while hopelessly out of his depth. This is meta-fiction I can get behind.

VILLAIN: I like my villains dark, the darker the better. One I’ve been rather fixated on is Paul Lohman in The Dinner, by Herman Koch. Two concerned couples meet for dinner to discuss the horrible crime committed by their two teenaged sons. As the meal proceeds, we realise that the narrator, Paul, the father of one of the boys, is not only unreliable, but the utterly repugnant centre of the story.

ES Thomson

HERO: My earliest crime fiction hero was Philip Marlowe. My father received a Raymond Chandler omnibus for Christmas when I was about 12. He never read it, but I did. Having digested the whole lot in about a week, in misguided homage I wrote a short story starring a Liverpudlian private dick named Philippa Barlow. Fortunately no one knows about this. I love a bit of hard-boiled classic noir, films as well as novels, so Sam Spade comes a close second.

VILLAIN: Lady Audley, from Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. To hide the crime she commits more crimes, including shoving a man down a well and setting fire to a hotel. Go Lady Audley! Or Lydia Gwilt from Wilkie Collins’ Armadale, an older woman who leaves wreckage behind her as she follows through her evil plans. Finally, I love the Sheriff of Nottingham. Played by Alan Rickman, of course.

Denzil Meyrik

I’m going to cheat; my hero and villain is the same character. Tony Soprano, from the eponymous and iconic US crime drama.

HERO: Soprano was the first bad guy to fill the coveted Sunday night prime-time slot on American TV. David Chase’s genius produced a character who, despite being the boss of a crime family, brought up his children and had a softer, vulnerable side. In the end, what ever he did, we rooted for him.

VILLAIN: This is more obvious. Tony kills, maims and schemes. He is at the top of a pyramid of ruthless gangsters who run North Jersey. If he doesn’t do it himself, he’s behind the crime. All the time, enjoying a playboy lifestyle: wine, women and song. What makes it compelling is that we know that piano on a string above his head could crush him at any minute. So does he.

Douglas Skelton

HEROES: Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, who first appeared in A Drink Before the War, come out on top for me. The characters, like the books, are a fine meld of darkness and smart humour and I was sold from my first meeting. They had an edgy dynamic as the series progressed, which added to the often disturbing plotlines.

VILLAIN: It has to be Ed McBain’s Deaf Man. He was, in the words of the boys in the 87th Precinct, a diabolical fiend. He was a mastermind but not a serial killer, although he killed without compunction or remorse when he had to. McBain never felt the need to explain him. He was a crook, not so pure and not so simple. No backstory. No cod psychology. Just businesslike badness through and through. He only appeared in a handful of the series but every one was an experience.

Alex Gray

HERO: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Louise Penny’s marvellous Quebecois character. A gentle man of immense integrity, happily married and a lover of culture, he is a person I would love to befriend in real life if he really existed. I think I’d travel through the snowy wastes to Penny’s Three Pines just to sit beside him and listen to his voice. So refreshing to have a hero without any chip on his shoulder, more like senior cops I’ve actually met.

VILLAIN: Sylvain Francoeur, a superintendent whose machinations almost destroy Gamache’s prodigy, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. His insidious words of poison are intended to humiliate Gamache and alienate Jean-Guy in The Beautiful Mystery, Penny’s 8th book in her series. Somehow it is far more chilling to see a villain that ought to be on the side of the angels and the overarching plot of her novels depicts this brilliantly.

The international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland takes place in Stirling from September 20-22. The McIllvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the year will be announced during the festival.