Who are the Go-To Bad Guys of Crime Fiction?

The Nazi zombie.
GIVE ME A DRINK! And some brains.
There was I was, sitting in my latest favorite bar in the city, Held Up in Traffic, when the door opened and in walked a Russian secret agent, an old mobster, and a Nazi zombie.

Yeah, I know. Sounds like the beginning to a bad joke. Work with me here, yeah?

I looked at them, then back at my drink. What the hell had the ’tender put in my glass? I blinked. Nope. They were still there. Blinked again.

No go.

This was real.

How did I recognize them? Well, the zombie was easy to spot: blue/white waxy skin, flaking and peeling all over his torn Luftwaffe uniform. The mob boss wore a suit right out of the 1940’s, something that Marlon Brando would’ve worn in The Godfather. The secret agent? Well, what else could he be, in his overcoat and furry Ushanka pulled low over his head as he tried way to hard not to be seen? The Russian Tokarev Model 51 that fell from his coat as he ordered their drinks didn’t help, either. Happily, it did not discharge.

They went and sat at the corner table, carrying their drinks. I think one was a double straight vodka, the other a glass of red wine, and the third was, well, what looked like a Zombie. For those of you out there who are “completionists” that drink is:

1 and ¼ oz lemon juice
1 oz dark rum
¾ oz orange juice
½ oz cherry brandy
½ oz light rum
½ oz high-proof dark rum
2 dashes grenadine

Zombie, indeed.

Anyway, I’d never seen a glummer group of guys in my life. Well, two of them were glum. Morose, actually. The Zombie seemed to be having the time of his life. Animated as hell. For a zombie, natch. Singing old German WW2 songs, slapping the Russian secret service man on the back as jokes were made. The Italian mob boss just sat there, filled to the brim with sullenness.

This just couldn’t be real. I rubbed my eyes. Looked over at their table.

Damn. Still there.

A Russian KGB Agent really wants a drink
Дайте мне выпить! (Give Me a Drink in Russian, of course.)
So, I slid off my stool and went over to them. They looked up at me as I approached. “Hey guys,” I said, “you three don’t usually drink around here, right?”

“No,” said the Russian spy, a sour tone to his voice. “But I’ve got no other place to go.”

“Me either,” said the mob boss.

“Oh, come on!” The zombie Nazi said. “This is a fine place to drink and sing!” He then dove into an off-key rendition of “Long, Black Veil” by Johnny Cash.

I pulled up the spare chair. Sat. “So,” I said to the Russian spy, “Why so sad?”

“I’m out of date,” he replied. “Nobody needs me in their story anymore as the bad guy. I’ve been replaced by the Americans.”

Huh. I turned then to the Italian mob boss. “What’s up with you, sour puss? You have money. Political protection. Button Men ready to pull the trigger on anyone you give the nod to. You should be singing in a field of flowers.”

Marlon Brando in The Godfather
I need a drink, see?
All I got in response to that was a sigh as large as the Queen Mary. He then indicated the Russian with a nod of his head. “I’ve been cast out, replaced by the Russian mob. I’m too old-world for these times, it would seem. Nobody wants a villain that would be considered quaint by standards today.”

I took a sip of my drink. I could see that. The world had moved on. Bad guys had morphed over the years, changing into whatever was the latest image of evil our paranoid society could come up with. Hell, what else could a writer do, right?

 “I can see the dilemma,” I said. After Watergate, the government became the bogeyman, a bad guy that ran through a lot of books, TV, and movies. Hell, wasn’t The X-Files the ultimate in presenting the government as being worse than any other bad guy? Once the cold war went on ice, we of course needed a new bad guy. The Italian Mafia had had its day, to be replaced by the even crueler, more sinister Russian Mafia, an organization that didn’t seem to possess the same sense of family that The Corleone family of The Godfather possessed. The world, as they say, had moved on.

It was then that I turned to the Nazi zombie. “So, why the hell are you so happy, anyway?”

He smirked. Tossed off the rest of his drink. Ordered another, telling the ‘tender to put it on my tab. “Why am I so happy?” he replied, his voice hollow and stringy. “No one ever gets mude of me! I’m the best villain! I’m always in der mode.

It took me a moment. I hadn’t taken German since my first year at college. “You’re always in style?”

“Exactly,” he replied, and the other two moaned.

“No, not really,” I countered. “That would be the government. Ever since Watergate, our own government has provided an awesome villain. Nameless. Clandestine. Unforgiving.” I looked the Nazi zombie in his one remaining eye. “You may always be sorta chic, bro, but even you will eventually get kicked to the curb. Just like werewolves and vampires. But governments? Those ’in control?’ Things like the Tri-Lateral Commission?” I finished my drink. “Those bad guys will never get old.”

I’d never thought I’d live to see a Nazi zombie deflate, but I swear he did just that. The bones that showed through the torn uniform sagged, the fleshless face became as morose as the spy’s and the mobster’s. He looked at me then, and I swore he was measuring distances, imagining how my eyes would look popping out of my skull, how my skull would look ripping off my neck.

But in the end, he bought the next round.

Robert Lewis grew up under the pier at Venice Beach, CA. There, by firelight, he would entertain the stray dogs with weird and wonderful tales. He’s still telling stories, but now he lives in a place with walls, a roof, and cases of red wine. Crime fiction and blues guitar are his things. He blogs over at NeedleCity, and twits sporadically and nonsensically as @robertklewis.

Read all the posts by Robert K. Lewis at Criminal Element.


  1. Clare 2e

    I do think it’s interesting to review, culturally, who the favorite THEM have been in different eras. Zombies and Nazis are definitely today’s THEM du jour. Thanks for the recipe, too, you secret [s]cozy fan[/s] completionist.

  2. Christopher Morgan

    You know, one of the popular Zombie origins is Government or Coroporate experimentation, so in a way, Big Brother is always pulling the strings…

    I do think there would be an interesting History of how at least American’s percieve it’s greatest threats as told by it’s villians in Pop Culture. Everyone points to the rise of SciFi and Invaders from Mars as being a result of The Red Scare, wonder how mobsters, spies, and zombies fit in…among others.

  3. Robert K. Lewis

    Who me? A closet cozy person??? As if, lol! 😉

    I definitely DO believe that the bogeyman at any given point in time is a direct refelection of society’s anxiety at that moment. It’s like… well, we now KNOW how evil governement is, right? Total, balls-on evil. To think otherwise is almost… well, 1980’s, lol.

    NOW it’s about things bigger than governements, hence… dead people walking again. Something no way we can control, only combat. Something WAY bigger than government. It’s like the rise and fall of the natural disaster film, or an alien film, I guess.

  4. jesse sublett

    Excellent! “I’m out of date,” he replied. “Nobody needs me in their story anymore as the bad guy. I’ve been replaced by the Americans.” It’s hard to be bad these days. Really, really bad, that is.
    Jesse Sublett

  5. Robert K. Lewis

    That’s so true, you know? What was horrible today, becomes “merely bad” a couple months down the line. What was appalling behavior awhile ago, now merits… a reality show, with you as the star. lol.

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