The Mystery of Crime Fiction

By Lynn McPherson

Have you ever wondered what draws a reader to crime fiction? Is there not enough crime in the real world that the human psyche longs for even more? Today, let’s explore the possibilities behind the love and longing for books that focus on the darker side of humankind. There are several sub-genres within the crime fiction family. I’ve chosen three of my personal favourites to discuss.

I love cozies. I read them. I write them. I have a mental note of books as long as Santa’s gift list of those I still have yet to read. I never seem to tire of them. The greatest part of cozies is getting to know the town and the characters that make each series unique. It’s like visiting your hometown or settling in to a comfy lounge chair to watch your favourite movie for the umpteenth time.  There is a familiarity that readers rely on and expect that cozies must deliver, if they are going to be successful. The protagonist must be likeable and the town must be where you’d love to spend time, as well as a recurring set of characters that draw the reader in, making them want to come back and visit with each new story. Comfort, escape, and a whodunit to challenge one’s intellect make it a no-brainer.
What about suspense or psychological thrillers? There is no known path. The reader must race through the pages to see if the character in jeopardy is going to be okay or achieve what they need to in order to get things back to normal—or at least, a semblance of order. When I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I had heart palpitations. I raced through each page, gripping the paperback novel like the outcome depended on it. There were moments I thought I couldn’t take it and would have to jump to the end—just to stop my anxious musings. But I knew there would be an end and that gave me the comfort and patience required to get there without cheating. There was great satisfaction with an ending that tied together all the most relevant details of the case. A perfect example of why they are so captivating to read.
Finally, let’s talk about police procedurals. These books have a professional detective in the police force who must follow the proper rules in order to solve the assigned case. This presents challenges that the cozy or amateur sleuth novels do not have to deal with, such as sticking to the law and proper procedure. You won’t see a detective sneaking around a suspect’s home to see what they uncover—that is, unless they have a proper warrant (I never like that part). However, they are granted access to crime scenes that a regular citizen is not given. The reader gets to walk in a police officer’s shoes and see what they see, with the tools and training given out by the department. We are given a glimpse into the mind of a police officer while we ride along like the proverbial fly on the wall. It’s fun to try and figure out if we make the same decisions and reach the same conclusions as the professional protagonist. It is an intellectual challenge and a journey into a life that most of us never get a change to experience.
With each category above, there is a different style and attraction that draws a reader in. However, the similarities cannot be denied—there is a puzzle to solve, a defined end, and a chance to live vicariously through the protagonist’s lens. Crime fiction allows a reader to escape into a dangerous story, path, or situation in which one would likely not experience in real life. By the end of the book, the reader can put it down, feeling satisfied that the story has come to completion. This, in itself, may be the best part of all.

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has two books out: The Girls’ Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder.  

[Lynn’s Author Site] – [Buy Lynn’s Book]

23 replies
  1. Melodie Campbell
    Melodie Campbell says:

    A good summary. I've always felt that crime fiction gives us something that we often don't get in real life: Justice. And it may be justice outside the law, when the law fails us. That is something incredibly satisfying to readers, and particularly women readers, I'm told.

    • Lynn McPherson
      Lynn McPherson says:

      I agree, Melodie. There is nothing as satisfying as when the murderer is caught and order is restored!

    • Marilyn Kay
      Marilyn Kay says:

      I agree, Melodie. Justice is a big part of the satisfaction of a mystery. I also agree that your blogpost, Lynn, captures the spirit of each of the mystery subgenres and how they satisfy different reader's needs.

  2. Saralyn
    Saralyn says:

    I like the way you describe each of the three types of mysteries. I see a lot of blurring of the edges in modern crime novels, but you've nailed the parameters like a pro! Of course, you are a pro, and I really enjoy your cozies!

    • Lynn McPherson
      Lynn McPherson says:

      Saralyn, you are too kind. Thank you so much. I have just started your book, Murder In the One Percent, and I’m already hooked in the first chapter!

  3. Linda Rodriguez
    Linda Rodriguez says:

    Welcome to The Stiletto Gang, Lynn. And what a great topic to begin with! The popularity of crime fiction has long been a puzzle that people have tried to figure out. Perhaps it's a way of experiencing danger without real risk. Perhaps it's the challenge of a puzzle. Perhaps it’s our need to see order restored after chaos and disorder wrecks the world. I have seen all of these posited as reasons. Excellent post.

    • Lynn McPherson
      Lynn McPherson says:

      Thank you, Linda. I appreciate your support and am absolutely delighted to be part of the gang.

  4. Daniella Bernett
    Daniella Bernett says:

    What a great piece. I, too, love to read and write mysteries. For me, it's always been about the puzzle. Sifting through all the clues to discover "why" the crime was committed

  5. ML
    ML says:

    What a fun piece, Lynn! I'm a cozy fan, as well, but sometimes I stray into other types of crime fiction. Mostly cozies, though…

    • Lynn McPherson
      Lynn McPherson says:

      Thanks ML. It is always nice to switch it up but comforting knowing there’s always a great cozy waiting for me close by.

  6. Judy Penz Sheluk
    Judy Penz Sheluk says:

    Okay, I'm the unknown person…I changed my Google email and … enough said. Great post. Will share.

  7. Debra H. Goldstein
    Debra H. Goldstein says:

    Welome to The Stiletto Gang….. what a nice summary to make us think as your first piece.

  8. T.K. Thorne
    T.K. Thorne says:

    So you were in law enforcement and love crime books! Always felt like "work" to me. But I am learning to enjoy them now that there is enough distance between me and my former career in LE. Plus, a well written story is worth the read regardless of the genre. Thanks for the interesting post.

    • Lynn McPherson
      Lynn McPherson says:

      Thanks so much, T.K. And, to be clear, I worked in the office at the RCMP–I was support staff, not an officer. I have the utmost respect for law enforcement, however. Thank you for keeping us safe.

    • Lynn McPherson
      Lynn McPherson says:

      Hi Jen, I think you've got it–the safety of the pages is a good place to be! Thanks for your comment.

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