I did a quick count-up a few minutes ago, and I've read twenty-five novels this year so far. Possibly slightly fewer, possibly even more than slightly, than my usual tally, but life has been complicated over the past few weeks.
And of course, from choice and because I review it for an e-zine, I read crime fiction. So why have two of that tally that claimed to be crime novels turned out to be... state-of-part-of-the-nation novels? Litfic? Just novels about people in crisis, which is the best definition I've ever heard of any kind of fiction?
I should say my reading tastes do have a significant element of eclecticism. Terry Pratchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, Pat Barker all figure strongly on my bookshelves. But crime is in the majority. And I probably wouldn't ask the question at all were it not for my other life as a reviewer. Because both the novels in question came to me for review. Believe it or not as you please, it's still true. And the e-zine is about crime fiction, its authors and other related topics. And you'd think, wouldn't you that publishers' marketing people would only target a crime fiction e-zine's review pages with, um, crime fiction?
Which leads naturally to the next question: what counts as crime? I worry a little about the credibility factor when authors locate a series in a beautiful, peaceful area where real-life crime means occasional traffic infractions, and give the local cops one murder after another to solve. But crime fiction seems to demand murder. I've just finished watching the final series of Broadchurch on TV; the scriptwriter made a brave decision to make the central crime a rape rather than a murder, and though it worked in that context, I wonder how many crime novelists could get away with it.
None of which really explains why the two books I mentioned several paragraphs ago, which are clearly not crime novels and were never intended to be, finished up on my to-be-reviewed shelf. The first featured a nasty rape and some domestic violence, neither of which was the main focus. The second contained unpleasant racist vandalism, a pathetic attempt at arson, a bit of plagiarism – again almost incidental. Both were novels about the main characters, who were people at a crossroads; both were well done, rich in thought-provoking ideas and background you could touch and taste.
But I'm still at a loss to know how anyone would think they were crime novels.