BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks: The Oxford Book of Villains - ed John Mortimer, pounds 6.99

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The Independent Culture
John Mortimer thinks villains are by nature optimists - they never think they'll be caught - which may explain this entertaining anthology's air of cheerfulness. As you'd expect, cheeky chappies abound in the 'Minor Crooks' section, but the fact that the collected awfulness of big-deal killers and cads like Rasputin, Jack the Ripper, Faust and Mussolini should seem so uplifting may reveal more about ourselves than we care to see. Most chilling is the banality of much evil, as in Rebecca West on the treason trial of oily-voiced William 'Lord Haw-Haw' Joyce: 'a tiny little creature and not handsome at all . . . like an ugly version of Scott Fitzgerald, but more nervous'.

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