Yes, I'm asking. That's because I've been chosen to talk on that topic at the upcoming Public Safety Writers conference in Vegas in June.


Mystery writers love a good mystery. We love a great murder. The white gloves are off--sorry Agatha C. But, do we need the bedroom door open?


I wrote a book, WHERE ANGELS FEAR, which is about an S&M sex club. Guess what? There was NO sex in the book. Nada. There was an intellectual discussion of the topic by a college prof in the book and even a trip to the club, but NO SEX. Was it a cop-out? Or, did I know my audience and exactly what they could handle?   


I'm far from a prude, that's why I was assigned the topic. It was sort of a "Truth-or-Dare" moment. I took the dare and I'm looking for the truth. Personally, if I want sex, I will go to the erotica genre. When I read a mystery, I want a clue.  


So, I'd like the folks on Crime Space to give me something to work with. What books crossed the line? Who got close and pulled it off? Titles and opinions, please!

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This is more of a comment than me committing to an answer, but I do believe that audience factor is important. That being said, as a new author with only one title published and another on the way, I have some problem drawing that audience line. I don't write what I consider graphic sex, it's not a how-to book after all, but there are a lot of sexual innuendos and sex plays heavily into the crime factor a lot of times, and has to be mentioned. I have had friend's mothers, little old white haired ladies I thought shouldn't be reading about murder to begin with, tell me they loved the book. I have also had a friend my own age mention that a few of the members of her reading group thought the book was "sleazy." I guess a distinction also needs to be made between actual sex, such as sexual activity, and sex being part of the backdrop or in the background. I will say that although many people do not like romance mixed in with their murders, I hate for the protag to be lonely. It makes me wonder why the hell she/he spends all their time trying to solve murders -- even if they're police-- when they go home to an empty bed every night. Man can not live by murder alone.

Holli Castillo
I've read your book, Holli, and found nothing offensive. I'm separating sex in the crime with the protag's antics in the bedroom.

Lennie Watkins in my books is a sleep-around girl, but she has a sense of humor about it and she does it for the good of the case. She's taking one for the team! But, you never see her in action. And Christy cringes every time Lennie makes a passing reference to her latest conquest.

I had a 92 yr old lady hammer me for the next chapter when I was writing "Where Angels Fear." Figured if she could handle the sex club, I must be doing something right!
When it comes to sex, I'm a more of a believer in the art of suggesting, and intimation. I think that works more effectively than blatant and exploitative. When I'm reading a mystery, suspense or even horror, I'm more interested in the who, what, where and what the hell was that, than in the groping and grabbing part. I think some sexual tension can work, but just to enhance or advance the story.

I started reading the Kathy Reichs series but after 3 or 4 I was done because she kept handling the sex part like her characters were goofy, giggling sixteen year olds. It was downright annoying and distracting.
Erotica is inappropriate -- except as a clue. :)

Sex may be very appropriate -- provided it's relevant to the novel (i.e. plot and character).
How much sex is too much?

Any sex where I'm not involved, LOL!

Ohhhhhhh! Sorry, couldn't resist!

But seriously, "too" much is up to individual tastes. It depends on the story you're writing. If you're writing a crime story with elements of erotica, then you've got to have sex because it's a part of your plot. You can always have sex in ANY genre, just make sure it brings to the story instead of take away.

Too much sex is sex that wasn't needed. If you don't need it, don't write it. But if it moves the story, then you should include it. There are tons of crime novels with sex in them, some with more sex than crime. It's up to what you want to write. As long as it moves the story, there's no problem. No one wants to read sex scenes that have nothing to do with the initial plot or move the story because they seem out of place.

There are of course different types of sex scenes and different heat levels. Which fits for your book is up to you. I've read some erotically charged crime novels that were great but still, I could see them being just as good without all that sex. If you don't have to have sex, I'd go without it in a crime novel.

Romantic suspense though is totally different and this is of the crime genre family as well.

Best Wishes!
This is a good viewpoint. So, is there lots of sex in romantic suspense? I don't read that genre. Can you recommend any books? Would you say certain publishers are more "open" to the idea of sexual content?
My audience is mostly women in their forties, fifties and sixties. So basically, there's no such thing as too much sex. I try to remember to put a bit of crime in the books to keep male readers entertained.
Yikes! I'm going to have to read your books! For the presentation, you understand. . . .
Yeah, that's the ticket...
Chandler was extremely racy and suggestive for his time, though. The books include nudity, references to drugs, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, you name it. That's a big part of the reason they were instant bestsellers, I'm guessing--people like to be scandalized, a little. They like to think that somewhere, at a safe distance, people are engaging in risky and exciting behaviors that they can experience vicariously through reading. It's part of the fun--and has always been part of the point of the noir/hardboiled subgenres, no?
I'm still trying to figure out what the topic has to do with Public Safety.


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