A study in crime: an introduction to crime literature


Crime literature is arguably one of the most popular genres of fiction today. Ranging from the classic detectives like Poirot and Sherlock Holmes to modern thrillers such as Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, there seems to be something for everyone in the world of whodunits, detectives and legal dramas.

The history and rise of crime fiction is very easy to trace, as a lot of crime fiction’s most famous characters have been around for over a hundred years. The classic example is Conan Doyle’s enigmatic Sherlock Holmes who, along with his companion Dr John Watson, first made an appearance in A Study in Scarlet in 1887. This particular crime hero is so popular he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most portrayed movie character” in history.

one of more noticeable flaws in crime fiction is the domination of male protagonists.

For newbies to the crime fiction world, particularly if you’re interested in historical crime fiction, another classic to definitely try is Agatha Christie. Christie wrote a total of 66 detective novels between 1920 and 1976; her novel And Then There Were None remains the best-selling mystery of all time. Both Christie and Conan Doyle are known for their detective works – Christie’s most beloved creations were the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and the elderly spinster Miss Marple. Miss Marple is also a refreshing creation for the feminist reader as one of more noticeable flaws in crime fiction is the domination of male protagonists. There are few exceptions; Irene Adler is famously known as one of the only adversaries to truly challenge to intellect of Sherlock Holmes. These classics of the crime fiction world continue to be popular today – an excellent example for anyone wanting a more modern take on these iconic characters is Sophie Hannah’s The Monogram Murders, a Hercule Poirot novel published in 2014.

Despite the evident popularity of detectives within the world of crime fiction, police and legal dramas are becoming increasingly popular. Take Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, one of the most famous crime novels of all time. This was published relatively recently, 1966, in comparison to some of classics mentioned above. This non-fiction account of the brutal murder of a family in Kansas takes the reader through the murders, revealing the two killers very early on and the remainder of the book is largely focused on the police’s work to find the pair and the subsequent legal battle to bring them to justice after they’ve been arrested. Capote was actually reportedly friends with another author of a classic legal drama, Harper Lee. Her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, focuses on racial inequality as white lawyer Atticus attempts to defend an innocent black man, Tom Robinson.

In 2014 the “king of horror” himself wrote his first detective book.

Even some of the big modern writers have recently ventured into the world of crime. In 2014 the “king of horror” himself wrote his first detective book. Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes features the brutal murders of eight people and retired police officer Bill Hodges receives a letter from someone claiming to be the killer, this was followed by two more crime novels in 2015 and 2016.

The world of crime fiction has contributed countless stories, both fiction or non-fiction, and some of the world’s most famous and beloved characters. Whether it be historical classics or more modern thrillers, there’s endless stories to be explored and the authors and books mentioned here merely scratch the surface of the world of crime literature.

Photograph: via Flickr Creative Commons

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