The appeal of crime fiction
You might be surprised to hear what many strangers tell me. From intellectual young men to kindly middle-aged grannies, professional young women to retired policemen, their eyes light up as they mention it. Even the wording they use is often the same. They are all keen to confide that they "love a good murder!" Bookshops and libraries, bastions of culture and civilisation, join in with posters announcing, "We love crime."
You might be forgiven for thinking that I live in some Orwellian society where words signify the opposite of their original meanings, or that I live in a penal colony inhabited by criminals. Neither is true. These ordinary members of the reading population are referring to crime fiction, or murder mysteries. Of course you knew that. So widespread is the appeal of the genre that no one can fail to be aware of it. In books and on television, mysteries remain one of the most popular genres of fiction.
How do we account for this? It's a strange phenomenon. I don't like reading about true crimes. It's too upsetting. Any real crime is one human being causing another human being to suffer, for their own selfish purposes. There is nothing redeeming about it. Yet somehow, in fiction, crime stories become transformed into a form of entertainment, usually focusing on "a good murder".
There could be several reasons why the genre is so popular. Firstly, crime fiction deals with the timeless conflict between good and evil. While detectives may not be without their flaws, they are fighting on the side of justice. The killers may not be totally evil characters, but they commit acts which are wholly evil. Crime fiction is, at heart, goodies and baddies.
Secondly, crime fiction is packed with suspense. Most of my reviewers describe my books a "page turners". The genre offers the excitement of the chase. Finally, the genre allows us to play out our own fears in a safe environment. A book may be scary, but it is just a book. We can look away, skim read, or close the book. We rarely have such control over the things that frighten us in real life.
But it is impossible to really pin down why some kinds of books appeal to a mass market, while others don't. I am just thankful that the genre in which I write is so popular. Long may it last!