Any fiction best seller list will almost certainly contain at least a few crime fiction novels. With a huge number of fans both young and old it is a seriously popular genre. With such a long-lasting and universal appeal, what has made crime fiction so popular? While any discussion on popularity in genre can reveal a myriad of answers, there are at least some tangible themes which suggest why crime fiction has retained its popularity for so long.
One of the most important themes is that crime fiction has evolved to include a huge range and variety within the genre. From the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes to grittier, more gruesome modern thrillers, to cosy mysteries, to the recent rise in popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction, there is a lot going on within crime fiction. With such a variety available, it is no surprise that people are able to find something within it that appeals to their sensibilities.
Almost all of the greatest novels, regardless of genre have mystery inherent in them. Mystery and tension are continuously worked into novels by successful authors, to keep the reader reading with interest and intrigue. Why is that character behaving like that? What is the point of that subplot? What will happen when X meets Y? These are the sorts of things that grab people’s attention and, when they’re done well, hold their attention right through to the end.
Though novels of all genres employ these tactics, the best crime fiction novels succeed the highest. With it being often a case of literally life and death, a crime fiction writer has the stakes so high a reader will usually keep turning the page, anticipating and exploring the plot until the very end. Many readers feel a compulsion to find out what has happened in all forms of life, and it is this aspect that is so rewarding to many people, explaining the popularity of these novels.
The classic crime story would be nothing without the detective. The detective and the characters which surround him or her are paramount since it forms the foundations of the plot. Like the genre itself, the characters and the detective change. In the Golden Era of Crime Fiction, the likes of Christie and Sayers, emerged with detectives such as Poirot and Blore, where like many other detectives in this time, heavily relied on logic and wits to solve a crime. There were no sensational epiphanies or a supernatural means of solving the crime; all the crimes were solved by deductions and pure thinking.
Crime fiction has moved on today and the classic detectives would have struggled in the modern world. This serves to show the depth and scope of the genre and why it can move beyond the classical tropes which immediately spring to mine when considering crime fiction.
To use a cliché, crime fiction has the whole package. It has the characters, the plot, the suspense, the mystery, the top quality writing and, often, the promise of more to come in the next book and the next. And there is always more to read. This is a genre where there’s always a new book to discover, where someone you know has a recommendation of a book you just have to read, or your favourite writer is due to release the next instalment of their must-read series.
What are your favourite crime fiction novels? Are they “classics” or contemporary? Feel free to share all of your thoughts on crime fiction.