Willen, a low-life bottom feeder who makes a living by committing back-alley sappings (that's cracking some one over the head with a heavy stick) and robbing the dead and dying victims is the focus of my latest story--a section which will fit into Through the Groaning Earth, a sequel to my novel Escape from Devil's Head.
Normally, I like my protagonists to have at least some seed of good in them that is trying to grow. However, Willen really doesn't have anything redeemable about his character, except for maybe a dogged determination which one might find kind of admirable--if he were to apply that determination to something worthy, which he doesn't.
Now this kind of character has certainly been experimented upon before by other authors, but anytime a writer attempts a thoroughly rotten character he runs the risk of alienating the readers, because they don't really care what happens to such a rotten fellow.
Many writers will alleviate this problem by giving the rotten protagonist at least one good quality (sure he's a murderer, but he loves his daughter/son) or by finally having the character come to a realization of his rotten ways and resolving to do become a better person (I'm going to give back all that money I stole from the First National Bank!) or by giving them at least one honorable trait. These are all valid methods of making the character more likable, and redemption is always a wonderful character arc if done well.
But Willen, the Butcher of Lantern Street, has no such things going for him. He'd stab his own mother in the back if he thought there was a copper coin in it for him. He'd betray his only friend if there was a profit in it. Will readers not care about the fate of Willen or will they follow the story, fascinated by his wicked ways and wonder if his well-earned demise will follow? I'm hoping the latter.