I'm reading the latest in Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series - All the Colours of Darkness. I've just finished Mo Hayder's Ritual. Of the last five books I've read, three have been crime fiction. And, I rather shamefacedly admit, this is not an unusual state of affairs.
It's an interesting phenomenon, this modern omnipresence of crime fiction, with all sorts of explanations for its popularity among respectable, mainly law-abiding readers. Most common is the theory that, as for Shakespearean comedy, the certainty of the eventual triumph of good - of resolution - allows readers to enjoy all sorts transgressions and evil, safe in the knowledge that order will be restored by the end of the play or the book. I'm not sure that this theory still holds good, as some of the more recent crime fiction writers, Mo Hayder for example, depict a word in which deep evil exists, and where some criminals go undetected and unpunished.
My favorite category of crime fiction has at its centre the world-weary, slightly alienated loner investigator, who quietly despairs at the state of the world around them - Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallender, Ian Rankin's Rebus and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski. Peter Robinson's Banks also falls into this category, but he doesn't quite have the depth of characterisation of my favorites. I guess these characters demonstrate a world-weariness that I fantasise I'd like to share.
Despite the theories, I think I know why I read crime fiction. I've always needed to read to 'escape'; reading simply for pleasure, rather than for self-improvement or illumination. I take great pleasure from strong narratives and characters I can care for. Before I discovered crime fiction I read vast quantities of nineteenth century fiction (and still do, when I find something I've not read) and I think I liked it for the same reasons I like crime fiction. Few things are more comforting and diverting than escaping into a Trollope novel, or immersing yourself in Margaret Oliphant's village life.
Still, even though my motives for reading them are similar, most people would probably be much more impressed by a sidebar of nineteenth century fiction than they are by my current reading list!