Australians devour dark crime novels at an amazing rate. Murder mysteries fly off the bookshelves and crime series on TV are huge. Is it because reading about dark deeds is a safe thrill – or do we like a sense of order with all those loose ends tied up and the murderer behind bars? Maybe it’s less about the hunt and more about the psychology of crime? A way of tackling worrying social issues? Or more simply our love of sleuthing – the sheer joy of pitting ourselves against the author and guessing whodunit before the big reveal?
For decades, UK thriller writers dominated. Names like Minette Walters, Peter James and Ruth Rendl. Then along came the Americans – Dennis Lehane, Patricia Cornwell, Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly among others, followed by the morally complex Scandi mysteries with their bleak settings and superb stylists such as el maestro, Henning Mankell.
Now – and not before time – that we boast our own rock stars of the genre, we decided to ask some top local crime writers to help solve the mystery of why Australians love a good, dark thriller.
See what you think of their theories:
Sara Foster, author of The Hidden Hours and All That Is Lost Between Us:
‘I can tell you why I savour crime fiction, and that’s because it brings out the wannabe detective in me. I love trying to unravel the mystery before the protagonist does, and I am fascinated by the different ways authors take us behind closed doors into the sordid and unsettled underbellies of their characters’ hidden lives. I’m sometimes too squeamish when it comes to lashings of blood and gore, but if you give me a dark, complex mind to explore and a race against time to find a criminal or save a potential victim, then I’ll be up all night turning the pages. It’s a safe adrenalin rush that lasts way longer than a roller coaster and is perhaps even more addictive than chocolate … because when a great crime story is over, I’m always left with an insatiable appetite for more.’
Emma Viskic, award winning author of And Fire Came Down and Resurrection Bay:
Australia has a dark history, so it’s probably not surprising a lot of us are drawn to dark crime stories. It’s fun trying to work out the ‘who dunnit’ in a cosy mystery, but we were raised on stories about callous rulers, bushrangers, convicts and massacres. Cool-headed musings about who killed Lady Marmalade in the parlour don’t always cut it – we want survival against all odds. And, most of all, we want the hero to prevail. Preferably while they thumb their nose at the establishment.
Mark Brandi author of the acclaimed Wimmera:
There are many reasons, and I don’t think they’re peculiar to Australians.
Maybe we like to read about crime so we might (in our real lives) avoid falling victim ourselves. We can examine – even if only subconsciously – the factors differentiating us from the victims. But when these differences are few (or a crime is random), fear often strikes deeply.
Alternatively, a lust for vengeance could be behind it. In the real world, villains often don’t get what (we might think) they deserve. In fiction, they sometimes do … but then, not always.
Finally, and more disturbingly, crime novels might offer readers a darkly vicarious experience. In this sense, while we may never contemplate an unspeakable or vengeful act in our real lives, good writing lets us walk briefly in those shoes.
It might be deeply troubling, even horrifying, but fiction can give us unique insight into the desires (and depravities) of those dwelling in the shadows.
Do you have a theory of your own? If so, we’d love to hear from you.