July 25 – 31: “Are broken-hearted villains suspenseful?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re discussing developing your antagonist when a love interest goes bad. ITW Members Lynn Cahoon, J.C. Lane, Terrence McCauley and Charles Atkins answer the question on everyone’s mind: Are broken-hearted villains suspenseful?




A Story to Kill book final compLynn Cahoon is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Tourist Trap cozy mystery series. Guidebook to Murder, book 1 of the series won the Reader’s Crown for Mystery Fiction in 2015. She’s also the author of the soon to be released, Cat Latimer series, with the first book, A STORY TO KILL, releasing in mass market paperback September 2016. She lives in a small town like the ones she loves to write about with her husband and two fur babies.



Tag You're Dead cover art - by PCJ.C. Lane is the author of TAG, YOU’RE DEAD, her first thriller. She also writes mysteries as Judy Clemens, including the Stella Crown series, the Grim Reaper mysteries, and the stand-alone LOST SONS. She is a past president of Sisters in Crime and lives in Ohio.




Dark Blood Cover (1 of 1)Caleb James is a pen name for fiction/non-fiction author and psychiatrist Charles Atkins. He lives in Connecticut with his partner and too-many cats.





A MURDER OF CROWS lo resTerrence McCauley is an award-winning crime writer living in New York City. In 2014, he won the New Pulp Award for Best Author and Best Short Story for “A Bullet’s All it Takes”. His short stories have been featured in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Atomic Noir, and Matt Hilton’s Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Vol. 1 & 2. He recently compiled Grand Central Noir, an anthology where all proceeds go directly to God’s Love We Deliver, a nonprofit organization in New York City. He is the author of Prohibition, Slow Burn, and the first James Hicks novel, Sympathy For The Devil.




  1. Ah, love. It’s sunbeams and flower blooms. Sweet tea and lemonade. But when it goes wrong? Watch out for a broken hearted villain. He has nothing to live for.

    As a writer of romance as well as mystery, I’m always rooting for the relationship, even when one of the partners is a true villain. And, if someone can twist their mind around a justification to commit a crime,or worse, a murder – what illogical thoughts might they come to when they’re still feeling love’s sweet sting?

    I enjoy seeing a villain with a softer side. Now, I’m not sure that love can cure a sociopath need to kill or steal or just mess with other’s minds, but showing the emotion makes for a stronger character.

    I think it’s the contrast from what we expect of a person in love versus what we expect from our local serial killers. Can a killer actually be in love? I’m not talking one timer’s here, or people who kill in the heat of the moment. But a person who actually enjoys taking someone else’s life.

    I seem to be asking more questions than I’m answering, so we’ll go back to the original question. Can a broken hearted villain be suspenseful? My short answer is yes.

  2. Heart ache and heart break are great, at least for writers. In my current Caleb James thriller, Dark Blood, I’ve got a creepy love triangle that includes a sociopathic teen with the hots for my hero. The problem is that poor seventeen-year-old Calvin never got the memo that kidnap and murder aren’t the way to your true-love’s heart.

    While Calvin pales against his father’s Nazi idealism, his teen angst and the agony of unrequited first love gives him a humanity that makes the reader root for him…sort of, kinda. He has the annoying habit of pulling you in only to do something horrific on the next page.

    So yes, give me the catalyst of love gone bad. We’ve all had our hearts broken. For some, that indescribable pain can be the springboard to personal growth but for others it lays the groundwork and motivation for mayhem, payback, and murder. It’s the real-world dichotomy of “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself” and its flip side, “If you leave me…I’ll kill you.”

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