Way back at the beginning of the year a mystery novel by a certain Literary Fiction Author was published, and said author proceeded to make a number of derogatory comments about crime fiction and those who read it. I had the opportunity to respond in an editorial in Crimespree Magazine, and that response is below.
As we celebrate the season, I wish you joy, happiness, and light. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be a part of this community.
I’m an only child, but I didn’t grow up alone. I solved crimes with my buddy Nancy Drew. I hung out with the good men and women of the 87th Precinct in Isola. I rode the Orient Express with Monsieur Poirot. I fished with Santiago and had a crush on Doc in Monterey.
As I got older, my extended family grew. I got sober with Matt Scudder and ate lunch with Bernie Rhodenbarr and Carolyn Kaiser. I tromped around the French Quarter and peered into Louisiana’s misty bayous with Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel. I followed Serge all the way to Florida. I hiked into the dark woods of Maine with Charlie Parker. I was shown around LA by Harry Bosch, Joe Pike, and Elvis Cole. I fell in love with Copenhagen while following Louise Rick. I sang along to Hank Williams with Tom Thorne. I glimpsed evil with Tony Hill. I crept through Edinburgh’s alleys with Rebus. I rode around The Hollows with Jones Cooper.
I could go on (and on), but you get the idea. These characters and stories—and the authors who create them—have made my life infinitely richer. They have contributed to how I view and interact with the world, giving my perception and understanding of human nature layers and depth I would otherwise lack.
Crime fiction is not about crime any more than science fiction is about science or romance is about sex. It is about the human condition. It is about aspects of society we might prefer to ignore. It is rife with social commentary that gives us room for thoughtful consideration. It is delivered in prose that can be sharp, languid, or both.
I often hear people say that readers like mysteries because they enjoy seeing good triumph over evil. I don’t necessarily agree. For me, the best mysteries are less about the solution or even seeing justice served. They’re about the process, about how human beings interact with each other and the world around us often in the most trying of circumstances.
Crime fiction is sometimes dismissed as being less “deep” or “worthwhile” than other forms of fiction. I would venture, though, that this dismissal comes from people who aren’t familiar with the books that have enlivened my five decades on the planet. These stories are clever, insightful, intelligent, astute, and sometimes funny.
I’m a fairly well-educated person with a decent vocabulary, and yet I frequently look up words used in the books I read. So those who think that crime fiction is written with less literary flair than other forms of fiction are also sorely mistaken.
In addition to giving me glimpses into locales real and imagined, crime fiction shows me aspects of history through a unique lens, one of the personal perspectives of characters (and, by extension, authors). It also captures the cultural details of particular eras that might otherwise be lost.
Crime fiction consistently occupies spots on bestseller lists because it engages readers with stories and characters that range from clever and light to terrifying and gruesome. Some stories follow formulas, yes, because those formulas work, especially when they’re used by authors with remarkable storytelling skills.
I’m incredibly lucky to know a lot of people who read and some who write crime fiction. They are among the finest people on the planet. To those who sneer at readers and authors of genre fiction generally and crime fiction specifically, I say: meet my tribe, my family. Get to know us. We might surprise you.