The gentleman you see portrayed here on th eright is Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg.
And the word “gentleman” is probably not the right one.
Also known as “the Mad Baron”, Ungern-Sternberg is one of the blatant proofs that history can best pulp fiction any day of the week, and without trying.
There is no Bond villain, no dime novel Yellow Peril, no fictional bad guy that can go head-to-head with the Baron in terms of madness and cruelty, and hope to win.
And all this is just fine because, you see, I’m doing the final draft of my novel, and I need to make my bad guy… worse.
The eating-babies-alive sort of worse.
The problem is, I tend to prefer subtler bad guys – I like my bad guys cheerfully evil but ultimately restrained, classy.
A good example of the category could be René Belloq, from the first Indiana Jones movie.
But my novel requires an over-the-top villain, the sort that’s none too subtle when it comes to be evil, the sort that is scary just because he breathes.
The sort of villain about whom I can just write a single scene, less than 750 words, and the reader will be going “My goodness, this is insane! This guy must be stopped!”
So I studied the classics – Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless, Blofeld, Baron Meliadus…
But as I said, history can beat pulp every day of the week.
And in terms of sheer stark-raving madness and cruelty, the Baron is one of the best (or the worst, obviously) in the catalog.
A Russian nobleman (and a debauched loser according to his own father), Ungern-Sternberg went native in Central Asia after the Bolshevik revolution, engaged in counter-revolutionary warfare against the Red Army, and later led his rag-tag army to Ulaanbataar, and seized the power in Mongolia.
Which sounds pretty tame, right?
But what of his plan of tracing a road between Ulaanbataar and Paris, marked by his crucified enemies, set like signposts every 100 feet?
What of his right-hand man, a self-proclaimed sadist whose duties included strangling on the spot anyone that displeased his boss?
What about the wholsesale massacres and his “creative” slaying of prisoners?
What about the fact that this guy was recognized as the God of War and Destruction by the Dalai Lama, and was himself convinced of being the reincarnation of Gengiz Khan?
What about his drug-fueled shamanic visions?
In the end, Ungern-Sternberg scared his own men so much they set a gatling gun outside of his tent and fired a few hundred bullets at him while sleeping.
He survived, galloped away naked in the winter night and was later “rescued” as he wondered in the steppe.
His rescuers were Red Army.
Tough luck, Roman.
With Ungern-Sternberg as a template, my bad guy is going to be just right.