Topic: building the tough, cynical character
I'm reading the collected stories of Patricia Highsmith. She writes direct to the murder, no fooling around. Her stories are about the failure of relationships on many levels. The spy or the Niccolò Machiavelli type, who, in my opinion is a failure at heart, a snoop or duper, wanting recognition or fame or money, but also wanting to escape some fault of the past or a fear of a future scenario that they instigated.
Highsmith's characters are the stuff that cynical and disaffected people are made of. Her characters are high-functioning, and this their problem. Many of them get caught up in their own machinations and regret their actions, the reactions and then regret the regrets. Her character are consumed in the vicious circles of self-destruction as they plan and execute others destruction, either in the social or the physical realm.
And many of the stories are set in Switzerland, the place of high functioning individuals, secret bank accounts and a facade of neutrality.