A guest post by Kate Naylor
Do you read crime novels? People have all sorts of reasons for steering clear of thrillers, everything from being all farty about the gore side of things to preferring rom-coms or chick-lit. But dyed in the wool lovers of thrills and spills swear by the crime novel, and they sell in their billions. They cross the line from print to TV, attracting vast audiences. And top suspense authors live high above the rest of us mere mortals, superstars of the written word sitting atop silvery clouds of fame and fortune.
There has to be something pretty profound going on for thrillers to be so popular. If you’ve avoided them like the plague so far, how about giving ’em a whirl? What’s the worst that can happen? A few sleepless nights, perhaps? Here are my top seven reasons for reading crime novels.
7 reasons to read crime novels
Number one, the best crime novels give your brain a serious workout
Keeping your brain stimulated through learning is a prime suspect in keeping it healthy, in good working order. OK, reading isn’t as effective as exercise for brain health, but it’s still pretty damn good.
Here’s the science bit. According to research by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, older readers who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. It appears there’s a genuine correlation between intellectual activities like reading and prevention of a truly awful disease. As ABC News says:
The new research, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found elderly people who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2 ½ times less likely to have the debilitating illness, which affects 4 million Americans.
The study’s main author, Dr. Robert Freidland, claims people who don’t exercise their gray matter stand a chance of losing brain power.The new report questions 193 people about their participation in 26 different hobbies. The list included physical activities, like gardening and knitting, intellectual hobbies like reading, and passive ones such as television viewing.
Two, the social side of reading
Reading itself might be a solitary pursuit but there’s a growing body of readers setting up reading groups, swapping tomes and getting together to discuss books and authors.
In Britain there’s even a trend for leaving books anonymously on buses and trains, in telephone booths, on benches in public parks and so on, so their fellow readers can pick them up and enjoy them. Far from killing the printed book, the ebook revolution is spreading the joy of reading even wider, whether it’s via Kindle or a ‘real’ book.
Here’s what The Guardian newspaper says about the rise and rise of book groups in Britain alone:
It is hard to know precisely how many book clubs there are, because so many of them are informal networks. But Professor Jenny Hartley, author of The Reading Groups Book, thinks there could be as many as 50,000.
There are reading groups devoted to football, horror, and crime books. There are groups in prisons, groups for men, groups who dress up in clothing appropriate to the book, groups who cook for each other, lesbian groups and radical groups.
All you need to do is listen to BBC Radio 4 for a week and there’s usually at least one top suspense author’s work reviewed or an author of some of the best crime novels currently on bookshop shelves interviewed. Last week it was Lee Child. Read thriller books and you’ll never be short of something to talk about, and your audience of fellow crime readers will be impressively large.
Three, the best detective novels are so beautifully written
It isn’t all about how much blood and gore you can stuff into a thriller. Or not very often, although there are plenty of blood-fests around if that’s what you want.
The greatest crime authors write with flair and style. They create scenes so real and compelling you feel you’re actually there, hovering behind the protagonist watching what comes next. They’re eloquent, imaginative and wonderfully creative. It takes some serious skill to craft a plot so complex and sticky that, as a reader, you’re genuinely surprised by the outcome. If you appreciate great writing, there are plenty of crime novels that fit the bill. The genre is full to the brim with them.
Four, the best crime fiction novels win awards
We’re talking seriously good stuff, rewarded with coveted awards most authors would give their eye teeth to win. Take the Scandanavian author Karin Alvtegen, whose splendid crime thriller Missing was nominated for a 2009 Edgar Award for best novel. The award is given by the Mystery Writers of America organisation, and it’s probably the most prestigious on the planet. Then there are the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger awards, synonymous with quality crime writing for over fifty years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You want top quality reading material? No problem at all.
Five, reading cuts stress and improves your mood
How? By taking your poor old mind to another place, in the case of crime novels a place you’re extremely glad you are not in yourself! Apparently a 2009 study by the University of Sussex, just down the road from me, revealed how just six minutes lost inside a great book can reduce the stress you’re feeling by as much as 68%. As the Kumon website, which reported the findings, states:
Dr Lewis, Cognitive Neuropsychologist says: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism. It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”
Six, reading crime books reveals how to cope with hair raising situations
The hero is faced with almost certain death. How do they react? They’re in a situation you’d have no idea how to navigate. What do they do? University of Sussex research also highlights how reading books provides inspiration, helping us learn about the limitations of the human mind, sparking imagination and curiosity. At the same time, the US expert Timi Gustafson R.D says that reading is a great way to relive past experiences and gain a fresh, healthier perspective based on the way the characters in the book have coped with adversity.
Seven, reading makes you seem sexier… especially to women!
Smart people are sexy. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Intelligent people are more likely to survive sticky situations and have the nous needed to lay their hands on more and better resources. As they say on the North by North website when talking with Dr. Mark Prokosch, a researcher and psychology professor at Elon University:
“It isn’t quite clear why intelligence is important,” said Prokosch. “Theoretically, the idea is that women prefer intelligence because higher intelligence indicates that the man has ‘good genes’ that may be passed on to potential offspring. This isn’t a conscious process, but simply occurs because a smart guy who can be clever, witty and hold a conversation is sexy.”
Now I know you’re thinking about it, but guys, don’t try cramming the contents of an encyclopedia into your brain before going out; Prokosch’s research also found that women tend to be fairly accurate judges of a man’s intelligence just from seeing or interacting with him. Faking it isn’t going to work here.
So if intelligence is what gets all the ladies, why do we still have things like Beauty and the Geek telling us that smart guys need Ashton Kutcher’s help to even speak to a girl without stuttering into a state of helplessness? The truth is that, despite the popular image of a Halo-playing, socially incompetent, bespectacled nerd, most of the stereotypes we associate with intelligence are actually positive ones.
According to Prokosch, we tend to think of smart people as socially confident, wealthy and witty. There’s even a “halo effect” that makes us perceive intelligent people as being more attractive.
If there’s a number eight, it has to be ‘just for the thrill of it’. I love experiencing the thrill of a great crime novel without having to put myself in any danger. Vicarious adventure? Bring it on!
Why do you read crime novels… or not?
Why do you read crime novels? And if you don’t, why not?