Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why do I read Crime Fiction?

Out of the blue I received some really interesting questions about books from a Goodreads member calling herself "Princess." These are the questions and my answers: 

Q: "1] In your opinion, what is mystery to you, and what is suspense to you? Is there a difference between the two?" 

Q "2] What do you as a reader, get from reading novels in this genre?" 

Hello - It is an interesting question. Working as a librarian I have found that mysteries mean different things to different people. Some are looking for what are called "cozies" which are light mystery novels that involve little or no violence. This sub-genre doesn't really appeal to me but the Donald Westlake series featuring the bumbling criminal Dortmunder is a favorite. Thrillers and suspense novels often have the protagonist racing against a deadline is order to save/find somebody/some item: books by Connolly and Lee Child fall into this category. There are also police procedurals which Connolly can also fall into, where a crime or conspiracy is committed and the reader follows the police investigation or PI to catch the perpetrator. I really enjoy James Ellroy, James Lee Burke and John Connolly in this category. 

I prefer what has been called "crime fiction" which instead of a "who done it" is more of a "why they done it." Often you'll know at the beginning of the book what the crime or conspiracy is and the narrative follows the crooks, cops, private eyes or all three and focuses on characterization as much as plot. My favorite authors in this genre are Tom Piccirilli, Ray Banks and Richard Stark (Donald Westlake's pseudonym for dark crime fiction.) 

As to why I read them, I think the visceral rush of a well written piece of crime fiction is almost intoxicating. I also think the vicarious thrill of reading about crime is also there, because in real life I'm a milquetoast Librarian who is practically afraid of his own shadow, but when I read books like these I am transported, however briefly, into a world of mystery and mayhem. Hope this helps, Be well, Tim.

Q: "3] How do you think of yourself – hero or villain? Is the worst identity to have not the villain, but the person who is powerless?" 

I think that the most interesting characters and certainly myself have aspects of both traits, making them fall into shades of grey rather than strictly hero or villain. The fallen hero or the repentant criminal make for very interesting story-lines as we are all flawed in some way and this makes the characters seem all the more real. I know I have done things that I deeply regret, but there are also small victories that make life seem worthwhile, at least for the moment. The worst identity may well be the character or person that falls into despair and gives away his or her sense of power to another, because in the act of giving away their free will, they have lost the power of their own choices and freedom of actions and have sunk into the dark pit of despondency. I suffer from severe depression and panic disorder, so I know how easy it is to isolate from humanity and give away the freedom that makes life both terrifying but nonetheless endlessly exciting.

Send comments to Tim.