The Sinner is a crime thriller TV series which aired its first episode on 2nd August. It is a story of a young mother (Jessica Biel), who suddenly develops violent tendencies, and murders a man in broad daylight. The series promises to explore “why” she killed. The first episode drew more than 3.5 million viewers and made it the top cable drama series debut. And, the show is not alone. Crime fiction, in all its form – shows, reality series, or novel – enthralls us. We love our serial killers, especially if he kills serial killers himself, right (Dexter)? Even something as basic as a ‘Savdhaan India’, for example, attracts millions of viewers in the country. In fact, the “crime” genre accounts for 25-40% of all fiction sales. So, what is it that makes crime fiction so tantalizing for humans?
Crime Came Late to the Party
The crime genre is a relatively newer addition to the fictional world. “The Three Apples,” one of the many tales narrated by Scheherazade, from Arabian Nights, is the earliest known example of a crime story. The first known crime novel is dated to the 19th century. The Rector of Veilbye, by the Danish author Steen Steensen Blicher, was first published in 1829. Crime genre, which was not even considered a genre to write or boast about until then, soon gained tremendous popularity.
The Fear is Real
The scenarios in a good crime novel are realistic, describing contemporary timelines, and relatable problems. Typically, readers can identify with the fear of the protagonist or the victim.
Crime author Mark Rubinstein says in an article “crime novels tap into the prospect of the possible which makes them even more compelling and frightening. These things could actually occur.”
Now, psychology clarifies that the combination of thrills and chills does something purely physical to our body. It triggers the ‘fight or flight’ reflex, a chemical cascade designed to help us survive, swarms our body. All the adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin flooding our brain, mimic what happens when we are super excited, or exceedingly happy. The brain gets duped into loving ‘fear’. This is why we love horror movies, and, of course, crime fiction.
Crime genre is usually high on feelings like Greed, Lust, Revenge, Nobility, Hatred, and Love. The extreme show of emotions drives the reader/audience’s interest. These subdued feelings receive the much-needed opening through the different characters of the crime fiction. L.A Larkin says in an article, ” We enjoy the adrenaline rush, the emotional roller-coaster, but we know we can put the book down and walk away. We are not actually in a war zone. There is no killer threatening us. We can live the life of a novel’s hero, bravely dodging fictitious bullets. “
Puzzle and Brain Game
Crime fiction is a classic example of cause and effect: a fundamental principle of storytelling. Every scene has a reason to exist, every minute detail has a greater purpose in a good crime fiction. There is no room for superfluity. This draws the attention of the reader. Makes it very interesting and fast-paced. It is hardly worth reading a crime fiction, that is not a page-turner.
Protagonists can come in all Shapes and Sizes
A weird psychopath, a depressed genius, a rude doctor, an old lady, a superhero, a geek, or a pipe smoking, ex-addict detective, protagonists come with their own “superpowers”, and vulnerabilities. The crime fiction doesn’t need ‘handsome, perfect characters’, that often crowd romances, for example. This enables a level of identification with the protagonists, that make crime fictions more real for many readers.
Finally, it is the grit, the intelligence, the closure, and the “to the point” description that has captured the attention of the fast moving world and the faster moving generation. Yes, we do feel a little (pleasurable) guilt, for enjoying the horrors inflicted to a fellow human. Yet, there is something so addictive about crime fiction, that we can’t turn away. Is it not better to just give in? Bring it on, The Sinners, and the ilk. We simply cannot have enough!
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