I read quite a lot of crime fiction – last year it made up 20% of my reading and I suspect that in past years it has been higher. Included in my definition of crime novels are thrillers, suspense novels, and all manner of crime including serial killer novels, police procedurals, gritty crime, historical crime, cosy crime, and more. On looking at my reading record I noticed that I was taking in a variety of different types of novel recently so I thought I would list them just to give a view of the sort of crime fiction there is out there – this is in no respect comprehensive or representative but just reflects what I have read in the past few weeks.
GOLDEN AGE. This is crime fiction from between the wars and includes exponents such as Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey. The novel I read was Murder on the Links by the Queen of Golden Age crime writing, Agatha Christie. It is an early Poirot novel and set wholly in France. It’s a short book but a good one and includes a love interest for Captain Hastings.
THRILLER. To me a thriller is a book which isn’t solely about a crime but includes another element such as a political one. Although it isn’t a golden rule I do find that thrillers seem to have some element of conspiracy theory at the centre. I have recently been listening to the audiobook of Fatherland by Robert Harris. This is very unusual in that it is set in a 1960s Germany which might have existed if the Germans had won WW2. It is a stand-alone novel. The hero is a police officer who starts to investigate a murder and then uncovers a wider conspiracy which puts their own life in danger. This is a very clever book and very exciting too – I was gripped.
POLICE PROCEDURAL. Novels like this feature a police investigation into a crime. In this case it is a series of murders. The book is Chinese Whispers by Peter May and is set in China. The book follows the Chinese police department’s investigation and the attempts of someone higher up in the establishment to hush up the crime. The book is one in a series and features an American forensic pathologist who lives with a local police official. I like this series and its unusual setting although I find Margaret a difficult character to like as she seems to annoy everyone she has contact with !
HISTORICAL CRIME. Crime novels set in the past come in all sorts of sizes and shapes but I particularly enjoy Barbara Hambly’s novels about Benjamin January which are set in 1830s Louisiana. Our main character is a free man but black and the books are heavy on the experience of slavery and the relationship between races where there is an imbalance of power. The one I have been reading this month is Wet Grave and it is a tale of murder, piracy and deceit. I enjoyed it.
HUMOROUS CRIME. It is strange to think that a book about a crime as grave as murder can be amusing but many authors manage this well. One of the best is Lindsey Davis and her books about the Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco. I am currently rereading my way through this series and have reached Last Act in Palmyra which is set in Lebanon and Syria and where our hero and his love interest are attached to a travelling show and trying to discover a murderer who must be within the group. I thought that the solution to the mystery was a bit obvious but the characterisation is great fun and the author’s portrayal of the love between Marcus and Helena is beautifully done.
SERIAL KILLER NOVELS are usually, but not always, police procedurals. They ramp up the tension as the investigators try to find out who is committing horrific crimes, usually with women victims, and almost inevitably the investigators or their families become at risk. I have recently reread A Perfect Evil by Alex Kava which is set in Nebraska and where the local sheriff calls in help in the form of the series character Maggie O’Dell who is supposed to be creating a profile of the murderer but who becomes drawn into the investigation, especially when the sheriff’s nephew goes missing. It is not the best example of the genre I have read, although it is the most recent, but it is good enough and makes a satisfying read.
COSY CRIME is a sub-genre where nothing is really too threatening or suspenseful. It is often set in small towns with quite stereotypical characters and the murder victim is so hated that no one really suffers loss whilst everything ends up happily. Lindsey Davis’ books probably fall into this category but the one I have read recently that fits the description best is The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Paters. This is one of her series featuring Amelia Peabody who is an archaeologist and is set in Egypt. The books take place in the Victorian era and are very amusing and great fun to read. Amelia is an engaging narrator and the author manages to convey her own self-delusions to the reader in a very clever way. I love this series.
ROMANTIC SUSPENSE. These novels veer sometimes towards the romance and sometimes towards the crime/suspense element. In a romantic suspense novel the main characters will fall in love quickly as a result of being pushed together in investigating a crime, being unfairly accused, or being targeted by a murderer – or all three ! I quite like this type of book but I do try not to take them too seriously. My most recent read in this category is The Prey by Allison Brennan which is a novel about a woman who is being targeted by a murderer and the bodyguard whose role is to protect her and who falls in love. Light but entertaining reading. This one is set in Florida.
Eight very different crime novels set in eight different locations and a few different time periods. I’ve read all these in the past month and I recommend them all as worth a try but remember that there are lots more crime novels out there of many different types – maybe I’ll revisit this theme with another selection in the future.
Keep reading !