They say that everybody loves a mystery, but is there a reason for this? Year on year the crime fiction, mystery, and thriller genre consistently top the bestseller charts and is generally regarded as the most popular literary genre.
For starters, one of the biggest draws to the crime genre is having a puzzle to solve. Whether it be a classic whodunnit, the page-turning thriller, or even the adventures of a bumbling amateur sleuth, there's always something for both the readers and the characters to work out. From that very first murder or unexplained incident, the reader’s mind starts to whirl, regarding potential suspects and motives in their heads. Throughout the reading process, we use our wits to work out what is really going on, eliminating suspects until we finally have our perpetrator. When reading a particularly gripping mystery myself, I sometimes even make notes of everything that is going on to make the solving process easier. Through reading these fictional mysteries, we become the detectives ourselves, working through clues and puzzles to solve the mystery before we reach that final page. So in this regard, crime fiction is very much a puzzle for our minds, something to keep your brain active, especially in these lockdown months.
The more crime fiction books we consume, the better we are at working things out - a skill in itself. I can’t speak for anybody else but I have found that over the years I've become a keener observer with each passing book, and there's a somewhat cathartic feeling about discovering who the guilty party is. That moment you work everything out, that snap of the fingers, the ‘gothcha’ moment, feels amazing. It may not be an essential life skill everybody needs, but I for one love the feeling of deduction. I’ve also found the more you read of a specific author, the better you get at entering their head space. Take Agatha Christie for example, I’ve now read a fair few of her novels and so going in I’m aware of how she normally plots out her mysteries, making it more likely each time that I figure out the final reveal, and it’s definitely an achievement to be as wile as Agatha Christie.
On the flip side, some people choose to read crime fiction for a much simpler reason, for escapism. The world we live certainly has its fair share of problems - the pandemic, elections, or even our general everyday problems - life is full of them. So sometimes there’s nothing better than to escape into a fictional world for an hour or two and forget all your troubles. But why crime? In a world full of literary romances and fantasy adventures why do people still choose to return to crime over and over again? Here’s what I think: crime fiction is dark, sometimes very dark, you can open a crime fiction book and are subject to any number of murders, sexual assaults, gang crimes, kidnappings, etc - but everything is contained within the pages of the book. You may be reading about subjects that are even darker than the real world you come from but at least here you have total control. With reading, if you don’t like what is going on you can simply close the book, you're in control.
So, whether you like having a puzzle to solve, enjoy that catharsis of detection, or you just want to escape reality, the crime genre is for you. Readers enjoy crime for so many reasons - even some I haven’t mentioned above - but whatever your reasoning you’ll always have a book to read.
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