Crime fiction is one of the fastest growing genres in literature. Read about what makes it so exciting, along with some of the more significant writers and their novels.
Introduction to Crime Fiction
Do you like solving mysteries? Then you probably like reading about them, too, and you’re not alone.
Crime fiction is a genre of literature that novelizes crimes and criminals. Much of what makes this genre so stimulating is the mental battle that ensues between writer and reader. As the writer reveals clues and works through the crime’s mystery, readers try to solve it for themselves before the criminal is revealed at the end of the story.
Developed in the early 19th century, crime fiction has since become extremely popular, and the genre has had to grow into multiple subgenres. Some of the more common subgenres are whodunit fiction (the most common form, readers are provided clues that eventually reveal the criminal), legal thriller (characters are usually lawyers and cops), and inverted detective (the criminal is revealed at the beginning and then the story works back to it).
Though each subgenre has its distinction, all crime fiction shares basic, yet important elements:1. A significant crime is perhaps the key to any good crime story. The crime is what propels the story forward. It is what motivates the characters and the readers.
Therefore, the crime has to be big and worthy. Most importantly, it has to be something that readers will care about. murder, for this reason, tends to be in crime stories.
Other common crimes are stolen objects of high value or kidnapping. Smaller crimes like a stolen car or missing wallet would not be comparably as significant.2. The hero (or heroes) of the crime story is the protagonist. This is usually the detective or the person trying to solve the crime’s mystery. The hero does not have to be likeable but does have to be interesting and intelligent enough to figure out clues and move the story along. To keep the hero interesting, there is almost always something unique, quirky, or different about his/her personality or situation.
3. The suspects of the crime story are relevant to the story’s suspense and intrigue. If the readers know who the criminal is from the first clue, then there is no point in continuing with the story (unless the story is inverted, in which case that is done on purpose). Therefore, it is up to the writer to introduce multiple suspects, or persons of interest. intentionally misleading clues and suspects are called red herrings. This helps to keep the reader guessing and actively involved in the crime’s mystery.
4. The criminal is essential to any good crime fiction. The criminal has to be well matched against his or her opponent – the story’s hero.
Therefore, the criminal must be intelligent, sneaky, and able to get away with it (or almost). The criminal must be a character in the story, introduced early on, so as not to ‘trick’ the reader at the very end with a criminal who was never mentioned.5. A realistic or believable story is also necessary to make crime fiction worth reading. If the storyline is awkward, if important details are left out, or if the reader is arguing with the story’s facts, then the story has essentially failed.
Part of what makes crime fiction so entertaining is that readers like to feel involved in the crime-solving. Though it is fictitious, the story should read as authentic and plausible. This keeps the readers focusing on the story, rather than dismissing the story.Now let’s take a look at some examples of significant crime fiction novels.
The Rector of Veilbye
In 1829, the first known crime novel was written by Denmark’s Steen Steensen Blicher. The Rector of Veilbye is based on a famous Danish murder that had occurred 200 years prior.
Told through diary entries of the detective, who was in this case the village’s judge, it follows the mystery of the death of the rector’s servant. The servant’s brother forces the judge to solve the murder, all the while the judge never realizes that the brother is really out for bloody revenge.
Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie is notorious in the crime fiction world for her 66 detective stories. In fact, she is even in the Guinness Book of World Records for best-selling author of all time. Murder on the Orient Express (1934) is a novel about one of Christie’s most famous fictional detectives, Hercule Poirot. Poirot is on the Orient Express heading back to London, when he is approached by a man claiming to have his life threatened. After the private detective refuses to help, the man is found dead, and the train staff begs Poirot to solve the murder before they arrive in London.
The only problem is, the dead man is not who he seems to be.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
More recently is the crime novel series by Stieg Larsson. This might seem familiar because it was recently adapted into a movie. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, published in English in 2008, was the first of the series set in Sweden.
Though the story’s crime takes place in 1966, the story itself begins years later. Henrik’s granddaughter disappeared all those years ago, and no one ever found out what happened. He solicits the help of Mikael, a big time publisher who is about to go to jail for libel, and offers to help him if Mikael can solve the mystery of the granddaughter’s disappearance.
However, when Mikael moves to the isolated island on which Henrik and his family still live, Mikael realizes he has gotten in too deep. He recruits Lisbeth, a strange and very intelligent hacker, and the two unearth more darkness than they could ever expect.
Significant Crime Novels
If you’re interested in reading other crime novels, here is a list of some that are noteworthy:
- Tales of Mystery ; Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (1852)
- The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887-1927)
- The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)
- The Collector by John Fowles (1963)
- Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (2014)
Crime fiction is a literary genre that novelizes the mystery of crime and crime-solving.
Its popularity stems from the careful unfolding of a mystery, and it appeals to readers who like to try solving the crime themselves. Crime fiction has been around since the early 19th century, but it has grown immensely, forcing it to divide into many subgenres like whodunit, legal thriller, and inverted detective fiction.Though there are many different types, all crime fiction has certain elements in common: a significant crime so that readers will care, a hero to solve the crime, suspects to the keep the readers in suspense, a worthy criminal to battle wits with the hero, and a realistic story to make the crime and crime-solving seem authentic. Authors like Steen Steensen Blicher, Agatha Christie, and Stieg Larsson have added thrilling stories to the genre, but there are countless others, and the list is only growing!