What makes a good crime novel?
The question might bring immediate answers to mind. You may already know what it is that draws you into a crime novel. It may be that one necessary ingredient; a tortured detective looking for their own salvation; a vivid backdrop; a ruthless killer. For others, it’s a multi-faceted journey through the pages.
Crime novels are a diverse bunch of books. They sit on the shelves under their banner of crime, but take a peak beneath that hard grizzled banner and you find a mass of of books so diverse and different from each other, you might struggle to believe they could all be nestled on that cramped shelf holding them up.
On those shelves you will find; police procedural, cozy, legal, psychological, thriller and spy, just to name a few. And as you can imagine, just from the titles, a diverse group indeed. So, plenty of room for all writers you’d think. Crime is after all, one of the most borrowed genres from the library.
It would seem not. I’ve heard that crime fiction is a tough genre to break into. It’s over saturated. Not that any writer should expect any genre to be any easier than another to break into, but look at the diversity and popularity of crime. Maybe it’s that very popularity that draws the writers as well as the readers. After all, we who read crime, would of course, tend to attempt to turn our hand to writing it, if anything.
So, out of curiosity, I’d be interested to know, what my blog readers look for in a crime fiction novel? What draws you to choosing it in the first place and what makes you love it when reading?
Margot Kinberg says
Rebecca – You ask really interesting questions here! And of course each of your readers will have a different answer. I love crime fiction exactly because it’s such a diverse genre. There are a few things binding it together but I really do love its variety. As to what I look for? It’s probably easier to say what I stay away from: excessive violence, serious brutality to children or animals, and lately, crazed serial killers. There are other things I don’t like too but those are things that’ll make me refuse to read.
The same things I look for in other novels: a good story, characters I want to find out more about, atmospheric setting, a confident voice. Perhaps more so than in other genres: a social commentary and something to puzzle over.
Annalisa Crawford says
I don’t really read crime, so I have no comment, I just wanted you to know I stopped by 🙂
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
I like the thriller side of crime fiction, often with a dose of horror. What I want is a protagonist who is flawed but strong.
Jane Isaac says
For me it is a strong character that feels real, so I can relate to them; a good plot with plenty of twists & turns, and a generous seasoning of suspense to keep me turning those pages;)
I have to say that for me, The element that draws me to a crime novel is understanding the main character, his or her psyche and knowing what the detective is thinking. So as to see through their eyes instead of what I view in my mind. 🙂
I have to engage with a main chracter – doesn’t matter if it’s the hero, villain or victim. A puzzle to figure out & just the right amount of info to do it. A moment where I’m amazed by the inventiveness of the author. And a clear, and just, conclusion. Not asking for much am I?
It’s only now that I’m beginning to appreciate the wonderful diversity in crime writing and this post helps to illuminate that further. Thank you for introducing me to a whole new (if sometimes seedy) world!
Gwen Tolios (@GwenTolios) says
Honestly, don’t really read crime novels. But I love crime shows! And for that, I love shows with good characters and those that explain the procedures. That can kinda transfer, right?
DJ Kirkby says
I like the suspense of a crime novel. The procedure bit isn’t as key for me as the suspense, the chase between police and bad guy / gal. I like the people I am reading about to be real (not perfect) but I do like it when the police are truly the good guys. I don’t like reading about police who are rotten to the core. Yes, it’s ok for them to maybe not be so ‘good’ outside of work in their personal relationships in the novel but at work I want them to genuinely care about the work they do. I also like crime novels that are part of a series more than stand alone novels.
As a writer of crime fiction I find the responses interesting. Because there is always a question of how to engage the reader. As you say crime fiction is a diverse but deceptively simple genre.
As both a writer & a reader I need good characters before anything else. Even in noir where justice is elusive you need to have someone to root for. And a story that keeps me turning the pages, following along with the protagonist & author until that moment of “ah ha!”
I know I’m porbably going against the grain here, but I do read crime books looking for a decent plot. Characterisation is obviously important but stand out books for me have been plot driven.
I love a crime novel with a sympathetic main character. That draws me in and keeps me there.
Ben Solomon says
Your simple question leaves plenty to spin on. I’m thinking along the lines of staying power, those qualities that make a work stick. I’m reminded of the old “Columbo” ads that told us we knew he’d catch the murderer; we watched to find out HOW. “The Thin Man” had a terrific plot, but the writing and the characters make it worth revisiting.
Rebecca Bradley says
I used to love Columbo. What endeared him to me was the way he came across as bumbling when in fact he had a shrewd mind. You’re right. Strong characters are definitely important.