Cozy, hard-boiled or somewhere in between? Crime fiction and uncertain times

Book sales have increased during this pandemic and, for some, it seems that crime fiction has boomed. This caused me to look at my own sales figures. As I’m a self-published author on Amazon, my sales figures are very easy to find. It looks as if my book sales have more or less doubled compared to last year. It is, of course, a situation that I’m very happy with, however, it did start me thinking.

I have been advertising a little more and I’ve finally got up to ten books in my crime series but I’m not sure that’s the whole story behind the increased sales.

I often imagine crime writing as being on a spectrum with the ‘cozy’ authors such as Christie at one end and the hard-boiled school at the other. I’m not that much of a fan of the ‘cozy’ murder mystery, also known as a ‘whodunnit’. Too often the characters are two dimensional stereotypes and the plots can be quite contrived. However, there is little argument that the best of its type can be very entertaining.

I love a lot of the classic hard-boiled authors such as Hammett, Spillane and especially Chandler. His detective, Philip Marlowe, is the quintessential hard-boiled detective, a tough loner who plays by his own rules (who was wonderfully played by the great Humphrey Bogart). In his world, just about everyone is playing a cynical double game except, of course, for the hero himself. The policemen featured in these books are, with one or two exceptions, sleazy and almost always on the take. They are as much the enemy to our hero as anyone else, sometimes more so.

So where would the Mac Maguire mysteries fall on this spectrum? While I’m possibly not the best person to judge this, I feel that they probably fall somewhere in between. If I had to compare Mac to anyone, it would be Simenon’s Maigret. Now, I’m not saying that my books are anywhere near as good as Simenon’s, I just mean that they live in similar and, perhaps, more realistic worlds. Like Maigret, Mac is a team player and, also like Maigret, most of the policemen he works with are just trying to do their jobs as best they can. For me, the fascination in Simenon’s books is the puzzle and, even more so, the motivations of the characters involved. Indeed, in some of Maigret’s adventures, the reader is almost told who the murderer is but we read on because the real puzzle is why they did the crime and how they will be finally caught.

It seems to be the vogue these days in many crime novels for the villains to be crooked policemen. Yet, in real life (at least in the country where the Mac Maguire books are set) police corruption doesn’t appear to be a major issue. The Metropolitan Police records show that, over a five year period, there were 617 cases investigated. The huge majority of these were not upheld or no action was deemed necessary. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any bent coppers out there, just that there are probably far less than many of these books portray.

So, why should crime fiction sell better in such uncertain times?

I think that within the pages of most crime books, after all the bloodshed and mayhem, justice and some sort of order in the world is eventually restored. Even in some of the most hard-boiled books, the hero will prevail and the villain will be defeated. To quote Raymond Chandler –

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.”

Yet, in many ways, the hard-boiled school is as unrealistic as the ‘cozy’ mystery. Poirot and Marlowe are very different characters but neither are very realistic. Maigret, on the other hand, is so believable that I think of him as being a living and breathing person when reading the books. However, what they all have in common is that, in the end, a sort of justice and the restoration of order will usually prevail.

We are all living through uncertain times and these books might just give us something we crave.

A little hope.


(Thanks to ‘cdrummbks’ for the Maigret cover and ‘twm1340’ for the great Bogart photo)



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