The Oxford Book of Villains by John Mortimer (ed) - review by Frank McLynn

Frank McLynn

Full of Lollipops

The Oxford Book of Villains


Oxford University Press 413pp £16.95 order from our bookshop

John Mortimer’s volume is an enjoyable romp through the stories of bad guys in history, literature and legend: from the banality of evil in the form of Dr Crippen to its satanic manifestation in M R James’s Karswell, from tyrants like Mussolini to bullies like Judge Jeffreys and Flashman. This is not so much a rogue’s gallery, more an Uffizi of s.o.b.s (daughters are largely absent), and it contains many surprises: Borges, for example, as a better guide to the New York underworld than Damon Runyon.

One’s reservations about this book begin with nomenclature. The word ‘villain’ has an honourable history; it is one of Shakespeare’s favourites, appearing as it does four times in major soliloquies in Hamlet, twice in Richard III as well as in memorable lines in King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant

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