July 31, 2014

5 Signs Crime Fiction is Still Evolving - A Guest Post by Rebecca Gray

Today I'm pleased to publish a guest post by Rebecca Gray, who writes about real crime at backgroundchecks.org. Her comments on the impact of technology and new media have certainly made me think about my own practice as a writer in the modern world. Please add any comments you wish or write to Rebecca directly at the email address below.

image courtesy ponsaluk

5 Signs Crime Fiction is Still Evolving

Rebecca Gray

Crime fiction as a genre dates back to the 19th century, when Poe chilled readers with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Conan Doyle gave birth to the archetypal detective in Sherlock Holmes. You can still cast new writing in that classic mold, but today's crime fiction continues to expand its reach, merging with different fields like science fiction and fantasy or exploiting the possibilities of new media.

Changes in modern culture and technology are driving these changes in crime fiction. The plots of old classics in detection like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Red House Mystery depend on the lack of formal methods for processing a crime scene we now use routinely, so in order to produce similar novels today, a writer would have to craft a story deliberately excluding modern techniques and solutions.

Besides being onerous to create, such a work would ring false unless you take advantage of the recently opened fantasy avenue. For example, if you place your villains and detectives in a steampunk environment, the archaisms become fresh, and your fiction has the chance of appealing to a wider audience.

Here are the five most significant ways in which crime fiction is growing and changing.

1. Universal access to computers and communication through the net have radically enlarged your choices in both crimes and means of detection. Word of warning: try not to depend too heavily on current details about hardware devices, telecom, social media sites, and so on in formulating a plot. These technologies and their usage change so rapidly a technology-intensive detective story usually feels stale and dated within just a few years.

Certain novelists who did make that mistake managed to rise above the error with exceptionally solid plots and vivid characters. Dick Francis' Twice Shy is an example of a book that relies on very primitive computer systems as a main plot element, but nevertheless continues to delight because of its other strengths.

2. New media like video games, graphic novels, manga, and anime demand that your skills as a crime writer grow, and as a bonus their use lets you reach more readers and viewers. Practical examples you can explore as a beginner include manga/anime products Detective Conan, YuYu Hakusho (the "Spirit Detective"), and Durarara!! (featuring a series of stabbings involving a possessed sword in the Tokyo of today).

The third Devil Summoner video game is set in a private investigation firm located in 1931 Tokyo, and concerns a series of supernatural crimes. Opening up the world of Japanese literature and art to infuse what's traditionally been a Western genre with an imported viewpoint can lend your work a keen advantage.

3. New forensic methods play the same role as new communication technologies. Widespread, easily accessed identification databases like CODIS and IAFIS make it necessary to design both crime and detection to accommodate their existence.

As in the case of computers linked through the net, you must acknowledge their existence if you write from the perspective of today rather than an artificial environment adjusted to avoid them, and these technologies change so rapidly it would be ill-advised to make a plot revolve around their current status.

4. Ever-changing geopolitics: love them and use them wisely in your work. This point explains itself, as we see by observing unsettled boundaries like those of Ukraine and Russia, or Israel and Palestine, and correctly following the successive 20th century name changes of territories in Eastern Europe alone is a very difficult task.

You can illustrate the importance of these never-ending alterations in crime fiction for yourself, in a most enjoyable manner. Reread Somerset Maugham's Ashenden stories, set during WWI, then John le Carré's The Constant Gardener, in which Big Pharma (which didn't exist during Maugham's era) serves as the all-too-convincing villain of the tale, and finally James McClure's beloved Kramer and Zondi novels, an organic outgrowth of conditions under apartheid.

Big Pharma's political power lets it function like a subterranean world government, and when that changes (if it changes), Gardener will become a period piece like the other examples.

5. New technologies add more avenues for publishing your work. You can offer your finished product as a download of video or audio in addition to the traditional text, by mailing out CDs and DVDs, or by producing a slick commercial-grade paperback using your own desktop publishing skills and the help of a local bindery.

Find out what your audience wants, and tailor your media delivery accordingly. And remember, even if you've found a comfortable groove in releasing your work, you will always learn more by trying a new style of writing or publishing, whatever its result.

The Author  

This guest post is contributed by Rebecca Gray, who writes about free background check for Backgroundchecks.org. She welcomes your comments at her email id: GrayRebecca14@gmail.com.


  1. Crime Fiction are very interesting, how twist and turns comes in the plot of a crime theory creates interest.

  2. While I can see that including the latest technology and suchlike in a novel will date it rapidly, I'm not sure it's a bad thing. I quite enjoy reading old stories and the methods of their time, it's a bit of a bonus