Why Crime Fiction Is Our Pandemic Genre Of Choice

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that crime fiction is an amazing genre of literature, and that it’s a great way to escape from your troubles.

What I’ve been saying for years has finally been proved true, as the lockdown has shown. New figures have shown that crime fiction sales are up from the same period in 2019.

Book sales overall are up, because everyone’s bored and stuck in their houses with none of their friends to take away their credit cards and stop them buying shit they don’t need on the internet. As the financial impact of the virus is still hurting everyone, even those lucky enough to have kept their jobs, many consumers looked for affordable luxuries that could make themselves feel better and keep them occupied, and they stumbled upon books.

So, between the availability of online stores and the boredom, many people have started buying new books to fill up their bookshelves, and their time. When you think that reading is a solitary activity, with a reduced risk of catching the virus, it’s the perfect solution for relieving pandemic boredom and the lockdown blues.

But why crime fiction? What is it that draws readers towards mystery novels and gripping thrillers?

Personally, I’ve always loved crime fiction and mystery because it gives me a chance to escape into a world that’s slightly worse than the one I’m living in currently.

I also love the fact that there are so many different types of crime fiction out there, so there’s a mystery novel for every mood. If I’m in need of something comforting, then cosy crime fiction is there for me. On the other hand, if I want something gripping and gory, then there are dark police procedurals to check out.

With so many different sub genres within the crime fiction label, it’s easy to see why so many readers are turning to it while they’re stuck indoors and in need of some reading material to keep them occupied. There’s something for everyone, and there are crime fiction and thriller novels set in almost every country and period of history, so whatever your fancy, you’ll find something that you want to read.

Crime fiction often crosses over into the comedy and romance genres, which is great for the pandemic, as readers might want a bit of a laugh as well as some thrills and excitement. This diverse genre offers it all, so readers don’t have to choose between different emotions and reactions.

Also, there’s so much crime fiction out there of all types, with new novels released all the time. Some readers might have put off buying a new book because their TBR (to be read) was huge- like mine! However, when faced with the prospect of being stuck inside, they might’ve caved and bought every book they’ve always wanted, with a view to reading more during the lockdown.

It has to be said, from what I’ve heard from fellow readers and my own personal experiences, not many of us made much of a dent in our TBR piles, never mind the new books we bought! That being said, new books always make us happy, so they’ve served one function at least.

Another reason for crime fiction’s popularity is that it is a chance to escape from the madness of reality, without having to learn another world’s rules and ideals, as you do with fantasy fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy novel, but they require a lot more concentration and time investment than crime fiction books.

With crime fiction, you’re transported to a version of life that’s pretty similar to yours now, or a bygone time whose rules are easily explained. There, you encounter monsters and fiends, just like in fantasy fiction, but in this case, they’re ordinary humans. Readers can relate to the characters, while at the same time be repulsed by their behaviour. In a world that seems to have gone insane, crime fiction offers a much-needed respite from all the crazy news stories.

In all, I think that it’s a combination of escapism and diversity that’s made crime fiction such a popular choice for readers during the pandemic. In the future, I hope that readers continue to buy books from their favourite authors and support them as we all navigate the insane ‘new normal’ together.

 

Anna Campbell Interview: “I love to play with the tropes of historical romance”

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Anna Campbell 

Today I’m pleased to share my interview with historical author Anna Campbell, who creates delightful novels and brings the past back to life. 

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards historical fiction??

Hi Hannah! Thanks so much for having me as your guest today. What an interesting question. I think I write intelligent historical romance that’s heavy on dialogue, usually incorporates an element of steam, and often includes a wry sense of humour. I like to think I go deeply into my characters emotions, too. I started writing the sort of historical romance I enjoyed reading – something that reflected the period and place of the setting while still telling a full-blooded love story. I’ve always loved history, right from when I was a little girl oohing and aahing at the illustrations in my books of fairy tales and watching Errol Flynn movies on black and white TV. The Adventures of Robin Hood has much to answer for!

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past experiences when writing fiction?

I always wanted to be a writer. I started my first novel in grade 3 although I didn’t actually slog through to finish a book until I was 17. In my working life, I had a variety of jobs, all of which were a great way to learn about human nature, and I travelled to many places, which have since appeared, in my stories. I sold my manuscript, No Ordinary Duchess, to Avon in New York at auction in 2006 and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since. Including Claiming the Courtesan, which is what NOD became, I’ve published 11 books with traditional publishers, but I reached a point where I found that I wanted a little more flexibility in schedules and pricing and tone. I’ve been an indie writer since 2015.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think it is that makes readers enjoy them?

I mainly write books set in the first 30 years of the 19th century, although over the last 12 months I’ve stretched my range to cover 18th century Scotland. I love to play with the tropes of historical romance like marriage of convenience or feuding families, but I use a richly imagined period background to give the stories a feeling of being grounded in real life, however larger-than-life the plots and characters might be. I love writing sparky dialogue – my women are always strong and smart. In fact, I’d say my heroes are too! I love giving exceptional people a happily ever after. There’s always quite a lot of passion in my books and I think readers enjoy watching simmering sexual attraction ripen into lasting love.

What books do you like reading yourself and how do they influence your writing?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. My mother gave me my first Mills and Boon when I was eight and I’ve read romance pretty much ever since. These days, though, my choices would probably lean more towards crime or nonfiction. Nonfiction in particular is a wonderful source of ideas for stories. I ask myself how a particular scenario might play out if it was set in the Regency (for example, with Captive of Sin, I’d been reading a lot of books about Russian/British rivalry in the mid-19th century in Central Asia and that sparked my hero’s background in the 1820s). In terms of fiction, I really like Elly Griffiths and Nicola Cornick and Mick Herron right now.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I’m not sure I believe in writer’s block. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block after all! I’ve certainly had days when I can’t write and there are things that have happened in my life that have stopped me writing for a while (a death in the family, for instance). But I think that’s just normal. Sometimes if the pages aren’t happening, I just need a break (reading a good book or a swim in the summer always help!). Or I need to take some time to think a bit more about the scene I’m about to do. If I’m really stuck, I have a couple of trusted writer friends who are always ready to have a natter about plot issues.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

A writer I admire tremendously is the late, great Dorothy Dunnett who wrote two wonderful series set in the late middle ages and the renaissance. If you’ve never read her Lymond Chronicles, rush to your nearest library or bookshop and buy them. They’re unlike anything else. I’d love to be her assistant – I doubt I’d rise to being a genuine collaborator but it would be a privilege to be there to watch how her mind works.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m currently in the throes of finishing a long series of 10 books set in the Highlands of Scotland called The Lairds Most Likely (The Highlander’s Forbidden Mistress came out at the end of June). I’ve had plans to write a series set around the season in Regency London for a long time, but other projects have got in the way. Now I’m finally ready to start these new stories which are going to be sparkling and glamorous and sexy. The first books should be out first half of next year so watch this space.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to checking out in the future?

I recently read The Dutch House by Anne Patchett and very much enjoyed it. I’d read her nonfiction before (it’s great!) but now I’m looking forward to exploring her fiction. I’m also gradually making my way through a re-read of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling historical romances. Most recently, I enjoyed The Corinthian. Next stop might be The Toll-Gate, I think.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Keep on reading!

I’d like to say thanks to Anna for answering my questions- it’s been amazing.

Transference Review: A Gory Mystery Not To Be Missed

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In the sequel to Untethered, John Bowie, who I had a great interview with previously, transforms the city of Manchester into a brutal extra character to add the list of strange, perverted and generally intriguing individuals.

The second novel to feature John Black, Transference [Love + Hate In Rain City], and picks up with the character living in witness protection in Bristol. After having offended gangland bosses in his hometown and helped to send many, including some big names, to prison, he’s now hiding out and keeping his head down.

He’s not long for the southern city or the quiet life, however, as Black is desperate to leave and return to his old stomping ground, Manchester. He had been driven out by Mr Big following an incident his club, where Black worked as a bouncer, and which led to arrests and unrest.

Following the news that the notorious gangster is soon to be released from jail, Black, a PI and writer, contrives a fairly implausible way to get himself a new case. He rings a bingo hall, and then asks for all of the people who’ve just ticked off the number 27 to be bought to the phone.

Then, he asks about a vague case, until he finds a suitable mark whose son, a student living away from home, recently died in mysterious circumstances. Black takes on the case, and then leaves Bristol on a trip back to his past, where he works on the death of the boy, as well as the perilous task of confronting his own demons.

The police set Black up with a job as a security guard turned admin guy at the block of flats from which the boy fell. The case has barely started, but quickly Black realises that the boy’s death was no accident or suicide, as the police are trying to claim to his distraught mother. He also started to notice connections between the case and his past, leading him on a self-destructive journey back into the heart of the murkiest parts of the city.

The writing is impressive, and at points it is incredibly poetic. Some paragraphs read like angst ridden punk rock lyrics, whilst others are beautifully atmospheric. The story turns incredibly dark and gory at times, and violence is peppered throughout, but somehow the author manages to make the gore interesting, not off-putting as it can be in the hands of lesser writers.

Characterisation is Bowie’s strong suit- the author creates a unique and intriguing cast of characters that keep you guessing. Some feel realistic, others like ethereal beings whose movements and thoughts can’t be predicted. All of them are intriguing and unique- from the former stripper turned literary agent to the gang lord ruling over Manchester and desperately trying to torment Black.

The book is mostly written in the first person, from protagonist Black’s perspective, and the character is what could be described as an unreliable narrator at times, particularly when he’s drunk. I’ve seen plenty of men give ‘the death stare’ before, and trust me, they’re not nearly as hard as they think they are. Most of the time, people get out of the way because they think you’re nuts, not tough.

Black’s narration pushes the novel forward, and it reads like a taught thriller full of twists, turns and the absurdity of real life. At times, Bowie takes things too far, and becomes too poetic; an early example is a list of barred patrons of a grimy pub, which Black reads off the wall as he searches for his own name. The list is far too detailed and lyrical to be realistic- most barred lists just have a photo, name and occasional notes telling bar staff to steer clear or call the management.

Aside from this, the novel is an engaging one. It’s the second in the Black Viking series, named after Black, the protagonist, and the Viking being that appears to him as a vision when his physical strength is waning and the going gets really tough. The Viking image is a bold and striking one, and the author uses it well to show Black’s mental instability and dogged determination.

All in all, I enjoyed Transference, and I’d be interested to read the next novel in the series. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about this gritty and grim thriller, and it keeps you enthralled until its bone-chilling ending. There’s clearly more to come, and I’d be interested to see what’s next for Black.