In a continuing series of features from our authors, Richard Godwin muses on crime fiction and sales.
Analysing sales trends is a tricky business. Predicting them is almost impossible. But when thinking of what type of crime novel sells, be it the cosy or the more violent novel, there are a few clear issues that emerge. Are readers looking for reassurances that traditional narratives offer, or is violence the allure?
One model of analysis that is illuminating is the Nietzschean dialogue between Dionysian and Apollonian energies . If Apollo represents law and Dionysus chaos, then crime fiction is built on a fundamental friction between the two. And proportionally, the largest part of any crime novel is the narrative showing the seductive uprising of forces that threaten to destroy society. There may be a certain voyeurism at play here, as the reader is allowed to witness things he would not ordinarily see, as he is given a peek into lives that are as exciting as they are flawed. But ultimately the narrative thrust is towards the vindication of law.
That is one thing that is a recurrent feature: most crime fiction is redemptive. The plot and story are often driven by criminal subversions and focus on the damage done to peoples’ lives by criminals, while the protagonist, often a detective, struggles to catch the culprit, but in the end order is restored and justice served, often lawlessly where revenge is part of the plot. Justice is a prevailing theme, but it is one that is interpreted in many ways. The police procedural traditionally relies on the investigation and the judicial system to restore order, while other novels mete out poetic justice to the wrong doers. These are some of the shared themes of crime novels, but the approaches are all different.