Pond Scum by Michael Lilly
My name is Jeremy Thorn, and I’m a serial killer.
Jeremy ‘Remy’ Thorn is a detective from a small town in Oregon. He does his job well and keeps to himself. A past of trauma and abuse, and a compulsive need for balance have shaped him into the person he is today: a decisive, effective killer.
His routine is simple but trustworthy.
Step one: Find two targets. The first, an abomination of a human being whose only contribution to the world is as fertilizer. The second, a detriment to society, perhaps a sidekick or accessory.
Step two: Kill the first. Frame the second.
After his latest, and most personal kill, all seems to be going well. He makes it home by morning and continues with his plan as normal, with each perfectly timed maneuver all mapped out. But to his horror, he finds that the man he was trying to frame—a hotshot detective from a major nearby city—has been called in to work the case. And what’s worse … he’s privy to the truth.
Road Runner by Michael Lilly
Remy and Todd are just getting comfortable when a series of death threats forces them to take refuge in a tiny town in New Mexico. Against his better judgment, an antsy Remy picks up detective work again and is thrust into a murder investigation. He quickly realizes these murders are no coincidence, and disturbing signs lead him to think they are connected to his unfinished business in Riverdell.
In the midst of yet another battle of wit, resources, mental fortitude, and emotional stamina, Remy is forced to confront the demons of his past and present. He can only hope he has what it takes to finish this once and for all.
Vigilantism in Fiction
Because it’s Illegal in Real Life
While one of the more popular plot dynamics in fiction—specifically action, crime, and suspense—it can be quite a challenge to piece together a story about vigilantism while also keeping it relevant, believable, and engaging. More specifically, it’s difficult to create a character—a vigilante—who’s likeable and relatable while simultaneously building a life for them in which they subvert the law and perpetuate acts that would certainly be frowned upon in real life.
So how exactly does one create such a character?
My first piece of advice is as complex and as simple as this: Keep them human. Have them do human things. Give them pets, hobbies, and a story. Give them reasons for living outside of their vigilante work. Give them flaws and quirks: a stutter they’re self-conscious about, a phobia of an insect that’s not even indigenous in the area, a deep knowledge of plant life, an obsession with another culture (or many other cultures!).
My second piece of advice is to make the work necessary. In the Dexter series, the protagonist, blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan, has a drive to kill, but it goes beyond simple desire. He needs it, and his father, Harry, recognized this in him and taught him a set of rules to abide by in order to keep it hidden. This is a unique (and mercilessly engaging) perspective, and it works. If your character kills for sheer pleasure, that’s a fast way to create distance between your character and your audience.
In some cases (and as was the plot device I used in Pond Scum), making the vigilantism a necessity is a matter of making the antagonist absolutely untouchable by the law. Make your antagonist arrogant, witty, and fully aware that they can get away with whatever they please, as long as they can’t get caught legally. These antagonists know that they can manipulate, lie, bribe, blackmail, and coerce their way to whatever end they please, as long as the court system continues to operate how it has been for decades. But they don’t count on someone ignoring that system. They think that, by breaking the rules, they have the edge, but when met with an adversary with a similar disregard for rules, they run scared.
An important part, which often seems like an afterthought, is that of how the character’s vigilantism affects their other relationships. Do they have a significant other? Does that person know about these habits? If so, how does that impact the significant other’s perception of the protagonist? And if not, what measures has the main character taken to keep their operations hidden?