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!

Views: 133

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Ha! I guess you get your publicity wherever and whenever you can. :) And public safety experts like a talk about sex about as much as the next person.
PSWA (Public Safety Writers, formerly known as Police Writers) consists of mystery writers, non-fiction law enforcement/fire department/paramedic etc. anyone who has worked in or writes about people who work in those fields. We talk about the regular things one finds at writing conferences and mystery conventions. I've done a Guerrilla Short Story Writing speech in Army fatigues, the history of pulp book covers, how to turn real life experiences into fiction that sells, and I've been on several marketing panels.

So, although my topic this year has NOTHING to do with public safety (as long as everyone uses condoms), it's very relevant to the mystery genre. Besides, this group likes it when I get sassy. They're my peeps!

For more info, go to
The protag of Megan Abbott's 'Queenpin' has a downright pornographic relationship, but actual sex acts are neither mentioned nor shown -- it's all by reference. I think that sex crosses the line when it's unneccessarily detailed and out of context. I wish I could give you an example, but I've learned to spot those books early and thus avoid having to subject myself to the described scenes. From what I've heard, though, James Patterson seems to be a likely candidate.
I never write sex scenes because I know my Dad will read them! But there is a lot of sex off stage in my stuff - mostly I use it as a tool for the plot. Example: when someone is having an affair with someone else, how much leverage does that give them? etc. You'd know from reading as much as you do how important personal relationships are in a murder investigation. The knowledge that A was sleeping with B could have huge consequences for the plot.

I reckon that the sex has to have a point. Writers like Evanovitch have very graphic scenes that have nothing to do with the crime. The reason she includes the scenes is because her character's relationships are integral to the conflict in the story - often serving to split the protagonist's loyalties during a case. Likewise, Connelly uses sex to muddy up the waters in the Poet by having the main character shag a woman who would later prove to be a possible suspect in the case.
If it reveals character, or moves the plot along, it's in. If not it's just mind candy.
Candy yes--mind candy maybe not.
Hmm. Possibly, women think more about it.
More than what?
More than men. Consider the difference between the action novels preferred by men, and the steamy romances for women.
I've read a couple of JD Robb's " .... In Death" books (ie: Naked In Death; Glory in Death; etc.) and, as I recall, there was a good deal of sex that bordered on erotica. Some of the reviewers on Amazon complained about the gratuitous sex scenes.

I think it's perfectly acceptable to write a great mystery plot around a bunch of sex scenes as long as the book is marketed as erotica instead of mystery. In fact, I'd be interested in trying my hand at this market (under a pseudonym, of course).

I also think it's fine to include a touch of sex in a mystery, so long as it fits the story and isn't thrown in gratuitously every 75 pages and it isn't written with so much detail that a 15-year-old boy could use it as a sex manual.

Personally, in crime stories, I prefer scenes with sexual tension that makes my heart race with anticipation, the kind of tension that is drawn out and leaves me begging for a sex scene that may never actually take place on or off the page.
Hi Sunny, this is an entry I posted on my blog ( and on DorothyL a couple of days ago. Hope it's of some help.

Sex, Violence, and Other Mysteries
This was something I posted on a DorothyL listserve discussion (April 26) which I thought might be of interest:

Long before I started writing mysteries, I published a book called Sex and Violence in the Canadian Novel. After a brief flurry of sales, it died a merciful death. In the first of my Quin and Morgan mysteries, Still Waters, there is a strong sexual component. A rape scene, crucial to character and plot, is presented with retrained brutality that underscores the lasting horror. The description of a male’s first affair is emotionally graphic and a subsequent fantasy tryst is emotionally empty; in the latter, the sex is graphic, in the former it is muted, tender, and fraught with innocence. My point: sex is character, sex is plot. When it’s neither, as in life, it’s just sex.

The third novel in the series, “The Gibraltar Coordinates” which is due out next spring, is more of an action-packed thriller (the second is gothic, the fourth a drawing-room puzzle). There’s lots of intimacy and affection but little on-stage sex; there’s violence enough to keep the wheels moving fast, but never separable from character-in-plot.

There are no rules, each representation is different, an integral part of the composition. But if sex is difficult to write, or awkward to read, it shouldn’t be there. If violence titillates when it should terrify, it’s extraneous.
Most mysteries I read and enjoy have little to no explicity sex, and that's the way I like it. On the other hand, I'm not a prude, and I can't think of anything I've read that crossed the line. One writer came close when the first page featured a gynecological examination with graphic description of the patient's STD - but that was about disease, not sex. The author redeemed herself in the rest of the book (and she may well read this, so it's up to her to give her name if she wants to.)

In my own novels, ELDERCIDE and MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS, the protagonists are between relationships and/or burned by past ones. There are attractive men around - including a couple of villains - but my heroines don't act on the attraction. Not yet, anyway.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso


CrimeSpace Google Search

© 2024   Created by Daniel Hatadi.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service