The thriller writers who are making a killing with crime fiction

British readers have become more gripped by crime and thriller novels, with sales up by 19% between 2015 and 2017, new figures suggest.

The rise has been fuelled by the growth of psychological thrillers and the success of big names like Lee Child, James Patterson and Dan Brown.

Last year, 18.7 million crime books were sold – 19% more than in 2015, data company Nielsen Bookscan says.

They overtook sales for general and literary fiction, which were down 16%.

Relative newcomer Shari Lapena is among the female authors to enjoy the boom. Her book The Couple Next Door was the bestselling novel in the genre last year.

Overall, Child topped the UK crime sales chart in 2017, selling 1.2 million books worth £7.5m – followed by Patterson and Brown.

Paula Hawkins, whose 2015 novel The Girl on the Train led the recent wave of psychological thrillers, was in fourth place after publishing her follow-up Into the Water.

She’s one of a number of authors who have enjoyed recent success with intense personal stories centred on troubled female characters. They include:

Shari Lapena

A Canadian author who switched from comedy to thrillers with 2016’s The Couple Next Door, about Anne and Marco whose baby goes missing while they’re having dinner with neighbours. Her follow-up, A Stranger in the House, came out last year.

2017 UK sales: 445,005.

Clare Mackintosh

The former police officer’s 2014 debut I Let You Go, which starts when a boy slips out of his mother’s grasp and runs into the road – and is knocked down by a hit-and-run driver – was a huge success. Her second book I See You arrived in 2016.

2017 UK sales: 233,719.

Sarah Pinborough

After establishing herself as a fantasy author (and screenwriter for the BBC’s Torchwood), Pinborough switched to psychological thrillers. The twist-tastic Behind Her Eyes took her career to the next level at the start of 2017.

2017 UK sales: 135,459.

Julia Wisdom, crime and thriller publisher for HarperCollins, said the rise in sales of crime fiction was mostly down to the “phenomenal popularity” of psychological thrillers.

“People have got sucked into these stories which are told from the first person, usually, and often with an unreliable narrator. It immerses you straight into someone’s psyche rather than seeing them from the outside,” she said.

“They often don’t have very complicated plots but it’s all about the build-up of suspense and fear, and you have to be completely immersed in the voice.”

Wisdom, who is also on the programming committee for the annual Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which takes place in Harrogate in July, said big names like Lee Child and David Baldacci “just get bigger and bigger”.

And people “still take comfort from crime novels where bad is punished and good comes through in the end”, she said.

“There’s also intrigue, suspense and mystery solving en route. But in the end, right wins out. There’s some comfort in that. Those sorts of stories tax your brain a bit but they’re not miserablist. In the end they make you feel better.”

2017 best-selling crime and thriller authors Name UK sales

Lee Child1,181,937James Patterson1,150,856Dan Brown482,176Paula Hawkins472,469John Grisham449,138Shari Lapena445,805David Baldacci380,191Martina Cole288,653Peter James274,009Michael Connelly244,905

Source: Nielsen Bookscan

Crime author Ian Rankin said that as well as having fascinating characters and gripping stories, crime fiction can show us “the darker side of ourselves”.

He told BBC News: “Crime tells us a lot about our society, it tells us a lot about ourselves as human beings… All we human beings are capable of doing good, but we’re also capable of doing terrible things to each other.

“There is a rise in these domestic noir novels, where it’s pretty much ordinary people caught in these extraordinary situations. So the reader goes, well, that could be me.”

Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

Will Gompertz reviews David Mamet’s Chicago ★★★★☆

If you’re thinking of going on a creative writing course, don’t.

Save your money and read David Mamet’s new thriller Chicago instead. It’s a whole lot cheaper and you’ll learn all you need to fulfil your literary dream.

Mamet can write. We know that.

He’s got a Pulitzer Prize to prove it.

Plays and movies are where he has made his literary name. American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, The Postman Always Rings Twice: it’s not a bad CV.

Dialogue is his thing.

He’s got a reputation for it.

So much so, it has its own name, Mametspeak.

This novel is packed with it: dense passages of jargon-laden conversations between earthy, cynical protagonists who finish off each other’s sentences, if the sentences get finished at all.

The bulk of the chat in this instance is between two old-school, hard-boiled, inky journalists called Mike Hodge and Clement Parlow who work in Coffin Corner at the Chicago Tribune, so called because “it was the place stories went to die”.

“Is non-coterminous a word?” Parlow said.

“It is if you want it to be,” Mike said. “Read Walt Whitman.”

“I can’t. It makes me sick with envy,” Parlow said.

And so it goes.

We’re in Prohibition-era 1920s Chicago where the rat-a-tat speed of their conversations matches the sound of guns being fired around the mean streets and back alleys of the corrupt, violent, crime-ridden city on which they report.

It is a story soaked in illicit whisky and the warm blood of dead mobsters. The Italians run one side of town, the Irish the other. Between the two are the Jews. Everyone is on the make; the only thing going straight are the bullets.

The story takes a while to get going. The first third of the book, the set-up, is about getting the atmospherics right; dragging us back a century, filling in the characters’ back-stories, hearing them bicker about journalism.

“What do you think they’re paying us for?” Crouch [the news editor] had said.

“Man bites dog,” Mike had said.

“Bullshit.” Crouch said. “Man bites dog is too interesting to be news.”

“Then what is news?” Mike said.

“News,” Crouch said, “is that which makes its consumer self-important, angry, or sufficiently whatever the hell to turn to page twelve, and, turning, encounter the ad for the carpet sale.”

Most of our time is spent hanging out in speakeasies and brothels, where new characters emerge and plot lines are planted with the subtly of a brown paper bag changing hands on a park bench.

By the time the story finally kicks off, Mike has fallen in love, two local “faces” have been murdered, and a couple of goons wearing unusual overcoats are lurking ominously in the background like an old score about to be settled.

At this point the novel morphs from being a thoroughly enjoyable period piece into a slug of genre writing that belongs to the era in which it is set. We’re talking Pulp Fiction.

“They said that knowledge is power.”

“Power is power,” Ruth said. “People say differently don’t understand power. Or knowledge. Knowledge is what gets you killed.”

The pace changes. There’s less chat and more action.

Al Capone makes a cameo.

Things turn nasty.

And life gets complicated, as Mike discovers the people on whom he is relying are more unreliable than backstreet gin.

It is not a perfect novel.

There are some bum notes to go alongside the groovy chords Mamet creates with his rhythmic dialogue.

He undermines his character Peekaboo, the all-seeing African American madam at the Ace of Space whorehouse, by making her reveal far more information than she ever would to Mike – without getting anything in return.

And there are moments, not many but some, where he overwrites in a way that the masters of the American crime novel like Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard, never would.

That though is being picky.

If you like your language dense, if you’re interested to see it being toyed with by a maestro, and if you fancy a blokey whodunnit to while away the hours until some half-decent weather arrives, then you could do a lot worse than hang out in David Mamet’s Chicago.

  • Follow Will Gompertz on Twitter
    • Listen to this week’s episode of Will’s Arts Club podcast

Love, Simon: The teen film helping people come out

“It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it. It’s beyond overwhelming.”

It’s no surprise author Becky Albertalli feels this way – the book she wrote as Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda has been made into the cultural phenomenon that is Love, Simon.

Not only has it been delighting audiences, with stars like Neil Patrick Harris and Kristen Bell buying out cinemas to help people to see it, but it’s been hailed as groundbreaking.

The reason why? It’s the first mainstream teenage film, backed by a major studio, to feature a gay lead.

Nick Robinson stars as Simon Spier, a US high school student who is keeping his sexuality secret from his family and close friends – until someone threatens to out him.

Another said: “When Simon’s mother tells him he can exhale now [it] turned me back into a child that needed to hear his mother say it was gonna be okay.”

Hayley wrote: “Queer kid me needed this movie, 21-year-old me needed it more. It’s hard to express how this kind of representation feels.”

Skip Twitter post by @spacekidreilly

I just saw Love Simon and I’m in awe. It’s an amazing movie. It’s exactly what we need right now and my mom and i cried pretty much the whole second half! So happy i have the support system I have, so happy a movie like this exists , love who you are. Happy to be bi. #ThxSimon

— looney lovegood (@spacekidreilly) March 31, 2018

Report

End of Twitter post by @spacekidreilly

One fan said they are “so happy a movie like this exists”, while another wrote: “Hearing a cinema full of people clapping when a non-hetero couple kissed made me feel so accepted.”

Becky used to work as a clinical psychologist, specialising in working with teenagers. While she saw a lot of people from the LGBT community, she stresses that none of Love, Simon was based on any of her patients’ experiences.

“That would be so unethical,” she says. “Everything about my former career is off limits.

“But because of my background, I got to a place where I had a pretty thorough understanding of what some of the issues some of the people in that community were dealing with. For personal and professional reasons, that community is important to me.

“One of the ways I try to explain my purpose for writing the book is that it’s like a love letter to them. The stuff that so many of them have to go through… I’m so in awe of those teens – they’re just the coolest, most awesome people.”

Love, Simon is on general release


Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.