Why Is Crime Fiction the Most Popular Genre?


Do you have a dark habit? A private passion for bloodshed, violence, suspense, and mystery? If you’re nodding your head, then you’re not alone. So why do we love to read about the murderers and serial killers, gangs and mafia bosses? It seems that murder and the sometimes-convoluted motives behind it fascinate us whether we’re reading about it in the latest crime thriller or hearing an actual news report. Crime fiction resonates with a broad population base and reigns as the most popular of fiction genres.

Why We Love the Kill

Why do we find stories about a seedy underworld and a brutal killer more appealing than reading War and Peace, The Great Gatsby, or other classics? Does it mean fans of crime fiction are too shallow to enjoy the more cerebral stories in classic literature? Absolutely not. I think there are a number of reasons people gravitate toward stories about crime. Here’s my short list – people love crime novels because they:

Stimulate tired brains. People live busy, hurried lives today and I think many don’t get to their pleasure reading until they’re already quite tired. The fast-paced danger and suspense in crime novels draws them in; whereas, if they picked up a work of literary fiction to read at bedtime, they’d nod off after a few pages.

Provide a catharsis. Even though thriller books can be scary and suspenseful, they can help us get past our real-life fears. Former crime reporter turned thriller author, Michael Duffy says, “Whether it’s the Bible, which is full of violence, or crime novels, both help us deal with our fears. You get the same story over and over again of murder and revenge; it must have a cleansing effect.” When we hear about some of the heinous true crime stories on the news, it can leave us feeling vulnerable and afraid. Reading a good crime novel where the bad guy gets it in the end, can relieve some of that anxiety.

Fulfill secret desires. People often have serious feelings of resentment against a coworker or ex-lover. They may read crime novels and imagine that it’s the person that wronged them getting knifed by a deranged killer in the story. Before I wrote my first crime novel, one of the partners at my law firm complained bitterly to me about one of the other attorneys. So I said, “Let’s write a book about him, kill the son-of-a-bitch off in the first chapter and spend the rest of the book figuring out whodunit.” That’s how my first legal thriller, Motion to Kill, came about.

Give an adrenaline rush. Perhaps people love to read crime thrillers for the same reasons they go on high-speed roller coasters and watch horror flicks. They want to experience the adrenaline rush, the fear, without exposing themselves to any real danger. Give it a try…grab a copy of Stone Cold or Shakedown.

Relieve boredom. Bored with the same old, same old? Crime certainly isn’t boring. Pick up a crime novel with lots of surprise plot twists and clever bad guys and be bored no more. Even when you’ve put the book down to take the dog for a walk, or start dinner, your mind will be busy sorting through the clues. You’ll mentally ruminate over why one character said this and another did that.

I think it all boils down to this quote by psychologist Robert I. Simon, “…bad men do what good men dream.” Crime novels allow good people to peek into and vicariously experience the world of bad people. What do you think? Do you have anything to add about why crime fiction has become so popular? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.