Sunday, 5 February 2012

Why we read crime fiction

I was very pleased to receive an invitation from BBC 3 Counties Radio this week to discuss the popularity of crime fiction live on air. This was in response to a recent report from the library service that crime novels have overtaken romance as the most borrowed genre in 2011.


The 10 most popular authors on the list were crime writers, with James Patterson at number 1 and two of Lee Child’s titles in the top 10. Most of the authors live in the US, Ian Rankin being the only UK resident author in the top 10.

I had an earlier inkling of this when a Hertfordshire librarian kindly emailed me to let me know that I was the second most borrowed author at that library for 2011, second only to James Patterson.

The question the BBC presenter posed was why has crime fiction increased in popularity in recent times?

In Victorian times people were uneasily aware of high profile killers like Jack the Ripper. Equipped with little more than bicycles, whistles and good intentions, the police in those days were ineffective. Sherlock Holmes captured the public imagination as a precursor of superman as much as of Poirot and Rebus, because it was immensely reassuring to read about a detective guaranteed to outwit the evil villain. It still seems incredible that many people thought he really existed, but we believe what we want to believe.

In the wake of 9/11 and with growing problems of recession, we are increasingly conscious of the battle for survival, on a global and an individual level. Add to this the decline in religious belief, and it is hardly surprising that so many people are turning to crime fiction as an escape from an unjust world where very little seems to make any sense.

However disturbing crime novels are, we know some sort of moral order will be restored in the end. That is the reason for their appeal. The less the world around us makes sense, the more popular the genre is likely to become, as library borrowings demonstrate.

7 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Very interesting about the upsurge of interst in crime novels. I'm sure your last point lays out the reason for it.

Leigh Russell said...

Glad you agree, Charles. I'm sure the issues are a bit more complex, but there's only so much room in a blog post. Then again, maybe it's that simple.

Derek said...

A thought provoking post, Leigh. I think the reader also likes to explore the shadow side of the psyche, from the comfort of a book or e-reader. I think it would make an interesting post if you take us into how you write your crimes. (Okay, I am a little biased as a thriller-writer-in-training!)

Rick said...

Hi Leigh! I hope you go into more of the issues in future posts. I love hearing your views on things like this.

Leigh Russell said...

I agree with that, Derek. One of the best comments I've read about my books was from the great Barry Forshaw in Crime Time when he wrote that my books take the reader 'into the darkest recesses of the human psyche' ! I'm not quite sure how I get to these dark places...

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Rick. That's so encouraging, and really cheered me up!

Guillaume said...

I think we read crime fiction because it shows human nature as it is.