Feb 3 2012 3:00pm

Dying to Love You: Bad Boys in Romantic Suspense

Flashpoint by Suzanne BrockmannI like bad boys. I know lots of people say that, and it can mean many different things. The term “bad boy” is almost used so much as to make the boys in question more ordinary than bad. I’ve talked about my ultimate bad boy prototype, Christopher Whitman (or Donatti, if you prefer) in this post over at Criminal Element. For me, the bad boy can’t get any better, or worse, than that.

But, there are few others who come close to meeting the requirement.

Bad Boys in books are usually damaged in some way. There is a big difference, though, between the naughty prankster who just needs a hug from a good woman, and a man who, often, does the wrong thing. On purpose. Repeatedly.

Jimmy Nash – The Bad Boy of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters, Inc series. Jimmy Nash is an assassin. No, wait, he performed “deletions” for The Agency. He’s hot, an expert flirt, so good at his job that he takes unreasonable chances just to make it more challenging. These chances often result in him getting dings, some of which require stitches and/or hospital stays. He never knew his father and his juvenile record culminates with him refusing to rat out a mob boss. Brockman has him describe himself, in the beginning of the book as “first cousin to the devil.” As usual, when you’re trying to make a suitable hero, Nash isn’t as bad as he makes himself out to be. That doesn’t mean he’s good, though. He has some heroic tendencies, some soft spots for widows and children, but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with a woman he knows his partner is interested in.

Jackson Teller in Sons of AnarchyJackson Teller – If you haven’t watched Sons of Anarchy, let me just assure you that you’re missing out. I was one of you, the uninitiated, up until a New Year’s Day marathon run on Netflix showed me what I was missing. Jackson, Jax, Teller is vice president of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club – Redwood Original or SAMCRO. He’s a young guy who has to deal with some old attitudes on the direction of his club while trying to figure out the direction of his life as well. That’s all well and good, but why does he make the list? While he’s a “new kind of criminal” he is still a criminal. SAMCRO runs guns and they seem to be in a perpetual gang war. They’re in and out of prison, and Jax is in the center of it all. And, can we talk about the swagger for a minute? All bad boys have it, of course, but in books you have to imagine it. The way he walks into and out of a room; His body language when he’s facing down an enemy or sizing up his woman. Jax has ‘it’ and it doesn’t take more than one episode to notice. I often tell people I could just sit and watch him walk on screen for days at a time. The swagger is enough to kill a woman. But, don’t worry, he’s quite capable of killing you the old fashioned way too.

Black Ice by Anne StuartBastien Toussaint – Bastien is….whoever he needs to be to get the job done. In Anne Stuart’s series start, Black Ice, Bastien’s job is to take down a group of arms dealers for the “The Committee.” We don’t know who they are, but we can guess. Chloe is inserted, accidentally on purpose, in the middle of the deal and Bastien most heroes would be concerned about getting her out of harms way. Bastien, however, barely bats an eyelash at the thought of killing her if she gets in his way.

“She stared at him, a cold sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. ‘Can you tell me one thing? Are you part of the good guys or the bad guys?’ ‘Trust me,’ he said wearily, ‘there’s not much difference.’”

Bastien, and his series bad boy brethren, Peter Jensen and Takashi O’Brien, do bad things, sometimes for a good cause. Each one of them crosses the line, more than once, doing things the “good boys” aren’t supposed to do. And even as I shake the book and curse at them, I can never quite look away. If we lived together, it would be a battle royale every night. But on the page, things work out between us just fine.

Who are your favorite bad boys of the page or screen?


Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, full on Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices addict. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or on the new blog Collection Reflection

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1. Mo
You touch on some good points. One that stood out for me was that the "bad boy" can't be too bad. Your description of Jimmy Nash tells me nothing about him except that he is an assassin, so I couldn't get a good feel for him, but Jackson Teller is just a criminal to me.

Having read Black Ice myself, I was struck by the fact that Bastien was good at his job, and he tried not to let it get to him emotionally. But really, whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not, the real world needs people like Bastien. On the other hand, the real world does not need people like Jackson.

And for me, therein lies the difference. Gunrunners with perpetual gang wars are not necessary. He might have swagger and he might like kittens, but he is a blight on humanity. Some assassins are "good" and some are "bad" and which side they are on depends on a person's point of view. But to keep our civilization and our way of life safe, sometimes we have to do the hard things and now and again it means we have to have someone to do the necessary killing.
Regina Thorne
2. reginathorn
I'm an even more recent "Sons of Anarchy" bandwagoneer than you - I watched it primarily because so many people (including you!) loved it so much and because I really liked Charlie Hunnam back when he was 19 playing 15 in the UK version of "Queer as Folk." All I can say is, wow, that boy grew up really, really well :P

I guess I disagree with Mo above because while in the real world, yes, gunrunners who sell automatic weapons to drug dealers are not good people, because this is a fairly unrealistic TV drama (it's not aiming for verisimilitude the way that say, "The Wire", was) I can appreciate it as a season long tragedy in the making. I'm sure there's no happy ending in store for Jax, no matter what (I'm just at the beginning of season 3 and I'm seeing that it's not going to end well!). I know Sutter himself has talked about the show being "Hamlet" in a motorcycle club (and we all know how "Hamlet" ends) and I see traces of "Macbeth" in it as well.

In conclusion: I love Jax. And I'm really happy that they chose to show him having his emotional breakdowns shirtless (or naked in the shower.) Thumbs up, producers!

Then again, I feel like my own moral compass in fiction is slightly skewed: as you know, my own favorite bad boy is Jaime Lannister :D
Kiersten Hallie Krum
3. Kiersten
You hit on 3 of my fave bad boys. I love Jimmy even as I want to smack him. Jax is Jax. Onscreen, no prob. Off screen, I would run screaming. And Bastien. Sigh. While I had a hard time seeing why Chloe would be with him (she fell for a man who literally left her to be tortured and beaten to death without too much reason why) he definitely gets my bad boy jones going.

I do love me a bad boy. Not b/c being crapped on by the man you love is so great. But b/c the women bad boys love are the one person that makes the difference in their lives. Love it even more when the "good boy" actually has latent bad boy impulses in reserve - see Alcide in True Blood. On the surface, Alcide is a good man/wolf, always trying to do the honorable thing despite or because of his inner wolf. But when he lets loose - when he lets his inner bad boy out - whoo boy. Look out.

Of course, Darcy from Bridget Jones' Diary (the movie) sums it up the best:

"Wait a minute," Bridget says. "Good guys don't kiss like that."
Mark Darcy: "Oh yes we f*cking do..."
Vanessa Ouadi
4. Lafka
Great post! I'm so into bad boys, they're really some sort of guilty pleasure to me ;)

I haven't read either of the books you mention in your article Robin, but I watch SAMCRO quite often of TV and I totally agree about all you said, Jax just rocks my pants off!

I understand what Mo said though, obviously Jax is mostly a criminal and if you take moral standards into account it may dampen your excitement over him indeed. Nonetheless, Jax has some sense of, mh, let's say "good or evil" when you compare him to many of his fellows.

Personnally I don't need a character to have a conscience or some morality to find him hot (going out with such a guy would be an entirely different matter if we were talking real life here!). I have a real fondness for bad asses (I guess it all started with Dom Juan for me _ I was lost the moment I read Tirso de Molina and then Molière's play and my addiction went on with Valmont in Laclos' Les liaisons dangereuses _ I guess it really didn't help that many bad boys and even pure vilains are played by smoking hot actors on TV and in movies)
5. dick
IMO, Stuart's protagonists in the Ice series are less "badboys" than programmed automatons, with the heroines who throw a glitch into their programs. All Stuart's protagonists, again IMO, are so over the top non-human as to be caricatures of badboyness.
Darlene Marshall
6. DarleneMarshall
Robin, did you see that there's a new Kellerman novel Gun Games] featuring Gabriel Whitman, Chris Whitman/Donatti's son? I really enjoyed it and have loved watching these characters age in real time.
Robin Bradford
7. RobinBradford
@Darlenemarshall Oh yes! I loved that book so much, even though some of her long time fans were not happy. I think they've had enough Chris. I can NEVER have enough. I love Gabe too.

@Kiersten I agree. I don't think I'd like any of them (well, maybe Jimmy) even they were real peeps, but they absolutely are NOT. I don't need feasibility from my bad boys. And you're right, it doesn't hurt that they're all drop dead gorgeous. :-)

@Mo The paragraph on Jimmy was the hardest to write because, in my opinion, he is so complex. I agree, I didn't do him justice in those blog post. He's one of my fave fictional characters, and it's always hard to capture them in so little space when you love them so much.
Marian DeVol
8. ladyengineer
I'm not familiar with SoA or Brockman's work, but although I haven't read her Ice series (not much into contemporary romantic suspense), I love Anne Stuart's House of Rohan. My favorite HoR "bad boy" protagonist is Francis Rohan, Viscount Rohan and Comte de Giverney, of Ruthless. Anyone thinking Rohan is over-the-top should look at the 18th century Hellfire Clubs upon which Stuart probably based her HoR "Heavenly Host".
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