The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
We didn't think it was possible to be even sketchier than the mayor, but Looper pulls it off. For one thing, he's kinda funny looking: "he had a very long neck with a bump in the middle and teeth so big they looked as if they were trying to escape from his mouth. His black, bushy hair stuck out from his head in untidy tufts" (2.57). Oh, and he walks with a lurch. Either Dr. Frankenstein's assistant escaped, or the people of Ember have gotten a little inbred.
Maybe we're wrong, though. And to be fair it's all relative. To Lizzie, "he's handsome" (11.60), and motivated: "He's not like most workers, who just plod along doing their jobs and then go home. He wants to find things out" (11.62).
The problem is what Looper does with the things he discovers: he keeps them for himself, distributes them among friends, or sells them for profit. The guy just has no scruples. And the worst part is, he's got cronies who help him out—like Lizzie. As she explains to Lina, "Looper says it's all going to be gone soon anyway, why not live as well as we can right now?" (11.84). Wow, talk about selfish and shortsighted. What gives Looper the right to decide what to do with all the city's supplies that he's unearthed in forgotten parts of the storerooms? If he knows Ember is headed nowhere fast, why doesn't he try to help the city out, instead of profit off of its doom?
Supply and Demand
We first encounter Looper when Lina takes a short, cryptic message from him to the mayor. Later, Lina finds out from Lizzie that Looper (who was two classes ahead of them, making him still pretty young, like fourteen or so) works in the Supply Depot. It's kinda odd, then, that he'd have another job running a shop on Night Street, which Lina hears about from someone else. This guy's got his fingers in a lot of pies.
When Lina goes to his shop, to check out the rumor she'd heard that he was selling colored pencils, Looper is evasive, answering, "We have a few […] They are somewhat expensive." (5.30) Um, yeah, they're expensive if you're a jerk who's decided to capitalize on the fact that the people of Ember want a little color to brighten their otherwise dreary lives.
His profiteering is his most repulsive quality. We can forgive his not-so-good looks and his generally sketchy vibe. But making money off of other people's tragic suffering? That makes him bad news.