Can Antagonists be as powerful as Villains?

I recently finished reading Dead of Winter by P.J. Parrish and wrote a review for it on BookBub and Goodreads.  I’d write one for Amazon, but they take down so many of the reviews I write, I don’t even bother anymore.  I really liked this thriller, and when I thought about it, it’s because the “good guys” scared me lots more than the killer.

I’m warning you now that there will be spoilers in this blog, so if you’re planning to read the book, you might not want to read on.   But Louis Kincaid is a black cop who’s hired in Loon Lake, Michigan, and it SEEMS like he’s going to be accepted by most of the whites in a white town and police department.  Some of the cops make a point of welcoming him, and then he learns that the last black cop who worked with them was killed inside his house, near his front door, by a shotgun blast.  As he investigates the murder, though, he realizes Pryce’s murder had nothing to do with race.  The evidence points to it being a vendetta, pay back for an old case that happened before he joined the force.  The more he learns, he’s convinced that two teenagers were killed in a standoff with the cops, and their father holds the police who were there responsible.  When a retired cop, who’d been at the scene, is found under the ice of the frozen lake with a playing card with a skull and bones on it, similar to the card at Pryce’s body, and the man’s squad call number is scrawled across it, he’s sure of his theory.

This is where things get interesting.  Lacey, the father, is ex-military and was dropped behind enemy lines often during Vietnam.  He knows how to elude anyone looking for him.  He’s an expert shot, and he intends to kill every single Loon Lake cop he can, especially the ones he holds responsible for killing his son and daughter.  Readers know he’s a serious threat, and we don’t want him to succeed the more pages we spend with Louis and his fellow cops.   We like them.  We don’t want them to die.

BUT, in the cabin Louis rents near the lake, he meets a mysterious woman who loves to run and is an artist.  She rents a cabin across the lake from him, and they start a relationship.  She tells him that her name is Zoe.  Louis is new to town.  There’s no way for him to know that she’s his chief’s wife.  Once the chief finds out he’s having an affair with her, though, he does everything in his power to make Louis’s life so miserable, he’ll quit the force.  In front of one of their early morning meetings, in front of every other cop, he calls Louis a pussy and slaps and mocks him.  And it gets worse from there.

Gibralter, the police chief, is so clever, so vindictive, and possibly a little bit crazy, that Lacey killing people pales in comparison to what he does.  I tried to think of an adversary that scared me more, and I came up blank.  He demands total loyalty, and if someone missteps or questions him, he punishes them.  Brutally.  When he’s in a scene with a “good” cop who might disagree with the way he’s handling things, I found myself holding my breath.  What would Gibralter do?  How bad would it be?

P.J. Parrish–two sisters who write as a team–made every character in the novel flawed.  Louis made his share of mistakes.  And the mystery interested me.  But what kept me turning pages were the bad guys–the killer and the police chief.  This book made me think about how effective a serious, in-your-face antagonist can be.  I don’t write those often.  They’re a little over the top for cozies.  But this book made me realize that antagonists serve as much a purpose in stories as villains.  They’re worth thinking about.

It’s almost February, friends.  Have a good one, and happy writing!

2 thoughts on “Can Antagonists be as powerful as Villains?

  1. I love The Louis Kincaid series. I’ve read them all with the exception of the latest which is on my Kindle. I’m so glad you’re giving them a try! This was an excellent post about characters and the use of antagonists!

    Liked by 1 person

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