Love and murder: Does any novel not revolve around either or both of these two crucial themes? Tales of proms, proposals, heart-wreckages, and reunions on one end of the spectrum are balanced perfectly by stories of crime sprees, conspiracies, and revenge plots on the other. Sex and death, those great generative twins, find their natural union in tales of killer couples: adulterous lovers or til-death-do-them-part marrieds who manage just as well in a car chase as they do in the sack. But these stories also carry their own special charge. We’re taking a look at the literary couples who love to kill, or kill to love, or some messy (bloody, brain-guts-y) combination of the two.
Frank Chambers and Cora Papadakis
In this classic 1934 crime novel, a young drifter named Frank Chambers encounters a couple who own and live in a roadside gas-station and restaurant in rural, dusty California. When Frank and the wife, Cora, begin having an affair, they organize a plot to kill her husband, an inattentive, self-satisfied bumbler known as “the Greek.” Frank and Cora’s passion is intense and their plot is ingenious, but killers rarely get away with their sins, especially where love is involved, and this story, as you might guess from the title, is no exception.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
When, early on in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth is told by three witches that he will inherit first the thaneship of Cawdor and eventually the throne of Scotland, he’s skeptical. But when he tells his wife, Lady Macbeth, what he he’s heard, skepticism is not among the emotions she exhibits. She encourages him, in fact, to kill the king (with whom he’ll be dining that evening) in order to rush the prophecy to fruition. Their plan, which ends up involving the deaths of many others, goes swimmingly. And then it doesn’t.
3. Oedipus Rex
Oedipus and Queen Jocasta
Anyone with a glancing knowledge of 20th century psychology knows that Oedipus, despite his own ignorance about his prophecy and his father’s efforts to derail it, follows Fate’s mandate by killing his dad and marrying his mother, Queen Jocasta. Though Oedipus never intended to off his own pops (he thought he was just killing an ornery old man in the street who wouldn’t budge), the revelation proves too horrifying to bear. Jocasta, who by now has had two children with what she did not but now knows was her son, kills herself, adding yet another act of murder to the family history.
Jaime Cersei Lannister
The various crimes of Cersei and her brother (and lover) Jaime Lannister have been well-documented and commented-upon. Most recently, Jaime’s rape of Cersei, as depicted in the HBO series based on the novel, stoked debates about what does and what doesn’t qualify as rape. But the act that really gets their malevolent careers rolling, and sets the tone for the series, is the defenestration, by Jaime, of Bran Stark. Catch these twisted siblings while they’re going at it and you’ll pay for life.
5. Gone Girl
Nick and Amy Dunne
The least spoiler-y and most fun way to sum up the situation in Gone Girl is to say that, of the seemingly perfect pair at the novel’s center, Nick and Amy Dunne, one kills and the other is driven to near-murder. But even though only one of them can technically add a notch to his/her bedpost (or get a tattoo of a tear, or do whatever it is people to do these days to commemorate killing someone), there’s no doubting there’s enough cutthroat ill-will between these two to rack up an impressive body count. Here’s hoping for an extra-lethal sequel.