For someone raised in a house saturated with crime novels and crime focused TV shows I have a special knack for avoiding this genre, which is why I’ve decided to spend March reading crime novels.

What is crime fiction?

Crime fiction is, of course, fiction focusing on criminals, criminal acts and investigation of said criminals and acts.

Why do I avoid this genre?

It just doesn’t appeal to me. I did succumb to the hype around The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books, and brought the whole trilogy, but I couldn’t get through the first book. Then there was The Wire, which I managed to watch a couple of episodes of before it became too gritty for me.

I have no problem with psychological thrillers (like Gone Girl) and horror (I had a prolonged Dean Koontz phase), but crime? Nah.

I do, however, love Sherlock – but I think that’s because it’s more like a detective mystery, blended with comedy.

What I’ll be reading

So March is crime fiction month. I thought about trying to read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, or going for Agatha Christie and P. D. James books, but I ended up taking a different route. So this month, I’ll be reading:

  1. Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman 
  2. The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith
  3. No Time for Goodbye, by Linwood Barclay

The blurb of the first book made me want to read it. I selected The Cuckoo’s Calling because I thought I should read some of JK Rowling’s non-Harry Potter work. I’ve had No Time for Goodbye for years, but always passed over it for something non-crime focused.

Want to find out more about the genre?

In 1944/45 American literary critic, Edmund Wilson, wrote about the crime fiction genre and his criticisms are the same ones repeated today – that the books he read were not intellectually stimulating, that they were formulaic, and that all they did was to provide mild stimulation to the reader. After receiving a letter from a crime fiction fan, he wrote:

“…so the opium smoker tells the novice not to mind if the first pipe makes him sick; and I fall back for reassurance on the valiant little band of my readers who sympathize with my views on the subject. One of these tells me that I have underestimated both the badness of detective stories themselves and the lax mental habits of those who en­joy them. The worst of it is, he says, that the true addict, half the time, never even finds out who has committed the murder. The addict reads not to find anything out but merely to get the mild stimulation of the succession of unexpected incidents and of the suspense itself of looking forward to learning a sensational secret. That this secret is nothing at all and does not really account for the incidents does not matter to such a reader. He has learned from his long indulgence how to connive with the author in the swindle: he does not pay any real attention when the disappointing denouement occurs, he does not think back and check the events, he simply shuts the book and starts another.”

Ouch! The thing is, all genre fiction can be described as formulaic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the book is well written. I’d rather be unable to book a book down because I have to find out what happens next, than fall asleep reading an award winning, literary masterpiece, stream of consciousness which makes me want to put on a Bruce Willis movie in protest.

The scorn for crime fiction persists. One author, Isabel Allende, has just admitted to writing her own crime novel as a joke. She has very little regard for the genre, and team crime fiction has been up in arms about her comments. Bestselling crime writer Val McDermid, says that the genre has been under attack from “the literary genre” for years. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s personal, to literary snobs most (if not all) genre fiction is low rent. (I don’t think all literary fiction writers or readers are snobs – the snobs are just more vocal.)

The truth is, as crime author, Laura Lippman, says: “Anything can be done as long as you’re willing to have a crime in the story.” I like this approach. Genre writers don’t have to be restricted by the classic formula of the genre. Good writing isn’t restricted to literary fiction.