Crime Fiction: Definition, Books & Authors

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  • 0:01 Introduction to Crime…
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  • 5:27 Significant Crime Novels
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

Crime fiction is one of the fastest growing genres in literature. Read about what makes it so exciting, along with some of the more significant writers and their novels.

Introduction to Crime Fiction

Do you like solving mysteries? Then you probably like reading about them, too, and you're not alone. Crime fiction is a genre of literature that novelizes crimes and criminals. Much of what makes this genre so stimulating is the mental battle that ensues between writer and reader. As the writer reveals clues and works through the crime's mystery, readers try to solve it for themselves before the criminal is revealed at the end of the story.

Developed in the early 19th century, crime fiction has since become extremely popular, and the genre has had to grow into multiple subgenres. Some of the more common subgenres are whodunit fiction (the most common form, readers are provided clues that eventually reveal the criminal), legal thriller (characters are usually lawyers and cops), and inverted detective (the criminal is revealed at the beginning and then the story works back to it).


Though each subgenre has its distinction, all crime fiction shares basic, yet important elements:

1. A significant crime is perhaps the key to any good crime story. The crime is what propels the story forward. It is what motivates the characters and the readers. Therefore, the crime has to be big and worthy. Most importantly, it has to be something that readers will care about. murder, for this reason, tends to be in crime stories. Other common crimes are stolen objects of high value or kidnapping. Smaller crimes like a stolen car or missing wallet would not be comparably as significant.

2. The hero (or heroes) of the crime story is the protagonist. This is usually the detective or the person trying to solve the crime's mystery. The hero does not have to be likeable but does have to be interesting and intelligent enough to figure out clues and move the story along. To keep the hero interesting, there is almost always something unique, quirky, or different about his/her personality or situation.

3. The suspects of the crime story are relevant to the story's suspense and intrigue. If the readers know who the criminal is from the first clue, then there is no point in continuing with the story (unless the story is inverted, in which case that is done on purpose). Therefore, it is up to the writer to introduce multiple suspects, or persons of interest. intentionally misleading clues and suspects are called red herrings. This helps to keep the reader guessing and actively involved in the crime's mystery.

4. The criminal is essential to any good crime fiction. The criminal has to be well matched against his or her opponent - the story's hero. Therefore, the criminal must be intelligent, sneaky, and able to get away with it (or almost). The criminal must be a character in the story, introduced early on, so as not to 'trick' the reader at the very end with a criminal who was never mentioned.

5. A realistic or believable story is also necessary to make crime fiction worth reading. If the storyline is awkward, if important details are left out, or if the reader is arguing with the story's facts, then the story has essentially failed. Part of what makes crime fiction so entertaining is that readers like to feel involved in the crime-solving. Though it is fictitious, the story should read as authentic and plausible. This keeps the readers focusing on the story, rather than dismissing the story.

Now let's take a look at some examples of significant crime fiction novels.

The Rector of Veilbye

In 1829, the first known crime novel was written by Denmark's Steen Steensen Blicher. The Rector of Veilbye is based on a famous Danish murder that had occurred 200 years prior. Told through diary entries of the detective, who was in this case the village's judge, it follows the mystery of the death of the rector's servant. The servant's brother forces the judge to solve the murder, all the while the judge never realizes that the brother is really out for bloody revenge.

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