Is Crime Fiction Mainly Written/Read by People Who Don't Experience Crime?

Let me throw out a generalization I've had kicking around my head this week.


If throughout your life you experience crime (say you're from a bad neighborhood), you likely will not be interested in watching shows or reading books about crime.


If throughout your life you do not experience crime (say you're from a good neighborhood), you likely will be interested in watching shows or reading books about crime.


This doesn't follow a logical pattern, since people should write/read what they know. But I'll go out on a limb and say most CrimeSpace members (in general) come from middle-class backgrounds and did not live the lives of the characters in crime fiction.


Whereas if you grew up mountain climbing, you're likely to be interested in writing/reading about mountain climbing. Or if you grew up (like me) doing lots of things outdoors, you'd be interested in writing/reading about the outdoors (which I am, both writing and reading).


What's going on here? I think we all know why people enjoy crime fiction: it safely allows exploration of the darker side of life. But does this fantasizing only apply to those who did not experience much criminal activity throughout their lives?


My thought is yes. If you grow up with crime, you don't need to seek out a medium to safely explore the darker side of life. You already lived it.


What do you think?

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Non-fiction excluded, of course. "Wiseguys" was Nicholas Pileggi's memoir of his time in the mob. "Goodfellas" wasn't intended to be a biography, just loosely based on his life.
Nicholas Pileggi was the writer, but Wiseguys is about Henry Hill.  Not the same person.  Henry turns up from time to time on talk radio, where the locals inevitably call up to call him a rat.  The only reason he's alive is because everyone who wanted him dead is dead.

Hill put out a follow-up book to describe his life after the mob, written by Gus Russo. After having read it, I cannot imagine anyone with whom I would less like to spend time. A detestable human being.

I'll try to save face and say I meant to say it was Nicholas Pileggi's book on Henry Hill, but up to this point I'd assumed they were the same person.


Anyway, "Goodfellas" remains my favorite movie.

And a rat!
I'm not sure what you mean by "grow up with crime." When I was 21 my boyfriend was murdered. That was one  huge event that I've been exploring, working out, etc. in my writing for a long time, in a sense "growing up" with it, even though I was an adult when it happened. As a child I spent a lot of time at a racetrack with my father who trained quarter horses, and heard lots of stories about doping horses and was around people who had been cheated or swindled in one way or another--and many of them were also swindlers as well. The home I returned to when I left the track was basically a middle class household (I grew up on a farm in a rural area, so "class" depended a lot on the weather and varied from year to year, but my family did own the land). So I think the issues of class and where and how we grow up are maybe more complex than you've suggested.

 Dashiell Hammett, Joe Gores, Ken Bruen experienced crime in various ways, and so, arguably, did the current crop of authors from Northern Ireland and South Africa. But any number of hard-boiled or noir writers did not or at least are not widely known to have.  So my tentative answer is that experiencing is too vague a word and crime fiction  too vast a field to allow for easy generalization.

 Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  I read crime fiction/murder mysteries because I like suspense, and psychological thrillers are my favorite, because I'm interested in why people kill---even if the "motives"  in many murder mysteries aren't always true to life or believable.

 I can see how, if I were someone whose life had been directly affected by crime, I might avoid these books. If  I had lost a loved one to murder, for instance, I expect it would be very painful for me to read about murder. We read mysteries because there is resolution and justice in the end, and real life does not always give us that satisfaction.   If  I were myself inclined to crime, I might be in denial about it, maybe dismiss mysteries as fluff---or boring.  I've actually thought about this while reading the details of a particularly grisly fictional crime; would I be reading this if something like this happened to someone I cared about?

Writers all  know that people love mysteries,and many of them are also interested in the psychology of murder and police procedure.  I'd assume that if they haven't experienced the effects of crime themselves, they've had to do considerable research. In other words, a kind of vicarious experience. They have to know something about police procedures, forensics, psychology, etc.

But yes, it is probably easier to read and write this kind of fiction if you are "safe."  Although Karin Fossum claims to have known a murderer, and the victim.   A neighbor, perhaps?

Caroline, I think you are right on the money. It is the curiosity of the 'tipping point' for many of us. We all have more or less the same basic needs as human beings, we all have environmental and developmental influences on our development and decision making but what makes one person kill, when another would walk away?


Where is that line, do we all really have it and what would it take to push us over it?


I think that is a large part of the appeal.


Marry that to the natural human inclination to solve mysteries/puzzles and answer questions and it seems fairly obvious. I know it isn't the same for everyone but I am sure at least some of the mass appeal derives from these areas.

Where is that line, do we all really have it and what would it take to push us over it?

Yes. Or....does the guy next door have it?  You remember the Michael Peterson case? He was convicted of murdering his wife Kathleen, and is now serving a life sentence, although he has appealed.  I followed that case on local court TV because they lived only a few blocks from here---they were well known in the local community, both in arts and politics. But what was going on beneath the surface of their apparently upscale, well-heeled lives....that's the part that fascinates. I never failed to feel, absolutely,  the horror of Kathleen Peterson's untimely and unnatural death (Peterson maintained she had fallen down a flight of stairs, but there was blood on the walls all the way up to the ceiling, as though she had been beaten, which her head wounds strongly suggested, although no weapon was ever found)  but to this day I have to wonder, because I believe that he was guilty,  what set him off?  In my mind I have constructed my own "scenarios,"  based on the facts we were told,  but it's impossible to be certain, because he still maintains his innocence. If I were a fiction writer telling this story, of course I'd have to make the leap, and invent something. Of course it's because it IS such a tragedy, and the circumstances both strange and entirely ordinary,  that I (and many others) want to know. 

When there's a road accident and someone is killed, we also want to know what happened ---who was at fault----but the answers are perhaps less complex. With murder, the real mystery is, as you say---"Where is that line?"  Rage,  desperation, opportunity.  Something many of us will never experience. I hope!


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