Why crime novels grip me, or often don’t

crime scene

9th December 2018

Like every other reader on the planet I love a good story.

I want to be taken on an exciting journey to meet new people, see new places and learn new things. Sometimes, I learn something about myself I didn’t know. Occasionally, I’m moved to tears, usually by injustice or dashed dreams.

Miss Marple photoTop of my reading list are crime novels. They come in so many shapes and sizes, with no end of new authors and styles to choose from. That in itself poses a problem of how to get a book noticed, which I’ll come to in a moment.

The whodunit sits proud at the top of my reading pile because I love puzzles and mysteries. Whether it’s Miss Marple, Inspector Morse or Kinsey Millhone, there’s something immensely satisfying about picking through clues, trying to piece together the evidence to find the key to solving the mystery.

That said, I should let you in on a secret. As I read for pleasure and entertainment, I rarely solve a whodunit while I’m reading. I want to enjoy the story, not step out of it to make a list of clues and suspects. Sometimes, the identity of the murderer comes to me as I read, but it’s not essential to my enjoyment.

Beyond murder mystery novels, my interests spread mainly across police procedurals, dipping into the occasional psychological thriller. While I loved the millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, I don’t tend to read Scandinavian noir, or any noir, come to think of it. If I want bleak I’ll watch the news.

Gritty and violent are okay if handled well and with restraint. Swearing doesn’t bother me. I know people swear, and a spot of DIY never fails to release the Anglo Saxon in me. But I wonder why some authors scatter profanities across the pages when a more selective use can create much greater impact.

And when it comes to sex scenes, my imagination can do it so much better.

I also realise there’s a lot of cruel and vicious crime out there in the world, but I don’t need to fill my head with it. I want to be entertained when I read, not depressed. That makes me selective.

While I appreciate a stylish cover, it’s the words inside that matter.

But, in such a crowded market, publishers and independent authors seem to be in the grip of an epidemic that’s infecting the straplines of crime novels.

The case of the gripping serial killer thriller’s unexpected twist of the year

Peter JamesOnce upon a time, endorsements by the likes of Val McDermid, Lee Child or Peter James were enough to create interest in a new book or author. Comparisons to Agatha Christie or another luminary of crime fiction often helped to lift a book a little higher up the list.

The message was simple – if you like these well-known authors, you’ll like this one.

But like any good idea, it’s usually overdone. The guys in the marketing department need to up their game and come up with another way to promote these books.

Cue the strapline.

This does for a book title what a mission statement does for a business.

Take a look around as you walk the streets. Traders have straplines on their vans. ‘We use copper because we do it proper’ caught my eye on a plumber’s van last week. Businesses like hairdressers and bakers have been using puns and catchy phrases for decades.

But once the publishing industry caught the bug, the disease began to infect covers like a rash.

Earlier this year, I read a crime novel that claimed it had a killer twist I wouldn’t see coming. Okay, that’s a challenge in anyone’s language. And while I’ve no wish to be smug, I saw it coming sometime before it arrived. And it wasn’t that big a deal either.

But the publisher didn’t care – I’d bought the book, hadn’t I? Well I would have, but they offered it for free for a limited period. Maybe their strapline didn’t quite have the desired effect?

Some make me smile. A serial killer thriller like no other.  All books are unique – otherwise the courts would be inundated with claims for plagiarism, surely. ‘Gripping’ has become one of the most overused words in the English language, it seems.

But the publishers cling onto it.

At the moment, there seems to be no respite for this infection, though some publishers and books appear to have discovered an antidote – a strapline that reflects the theme or issues in the novel. Whether it will help to reduce the sensational strapline claims is anyone’s guess.

I prefer accuracy over hyperbole.

No RemorseI would never make a claim I couldn’t substantiate. I could have described my last novel, No Remorse, as Kinsey Millhone meets Agatha Christie in a modern twist on the traditional whodunit. Actually, I couldn’t have done that as I’ve only just made it up, but you get the gist.

I went with Old sins cast long shadows, which was entirely in keeping with the novel. Hopefully, readers found the strapline interesting enough to look a little closer.

Maybe you could tell me.


Meanwhile, back in Crouch Corner, while wrestling with the first draft of No Stone – as in no stone unturned – I may have turned a corner.

Like all authors, when I approach the end of a chapter, a hook adds a note of intrigue, designed to make the reader want to carry on. This week, an unexpected twist came out of nowhere and gripped me so tight, you might have thought I’d won the lottery.

Okay, let’s stick to accuracy. This twist flowed from my fingers onto the screen. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s turned my plans upside down. I’ve uncovered the true direction of my crime novel. My subconscious has seen what I couldn’t see. This unexpected twist not only raises the stakes, it makes the investigation more personal, adding to the dangers and threats facing my protagonist, Kent Fisher. The road ahead seems much clearer now.

On the flipside, I’m not sure No Stone is the best title. I suppose I could take a leaf out of the publishers’ manual and spice it up with a killer strapline …

No Stone
A gripping murder mystery with a killer twist about a missing pebble.

No Stone
A gripping cold case that’ll freeze your rocks off.

No Stone
The gripping murder mystery of the year with more atmosphere than a disused quarry.

Okay, I’ll choose a new title.

You can keep track of my progress with No Stone by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Simply add your details in the form on the right of the page and you’ll receive a free copy of my Case Files.

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