I could tell you that my bookshelves protest under the weight of my library of classic English literature. I could say that I read Thomas Hardy for pleasure and that I can think of nothing more wonderful than dipping into Jude the Obscure when I’m at a loose end.
I could tell you all of this, but I would be fibbing: I’ve read a lot of Thomas Hardy and it always feels as if I’m eating rocks. The only books I possess that by any stretch of the imagination could be termed “classics” are the works of Evelyn Waugh. But I have always loved him for the poisoned snobbery of his writing and the kind of coruscating, elegant wit I will spend my life aspiring to but which I will never achieve.
Anyway, I am too old to care if anyone is unimpressed by my taste in literature, so I’m not ashamed to say, look, this is me and I love crime fiction. I’ve been hooked since the age of 11, when I read my dad’s grizzled, yellowed, frankly tatty The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which I had to hold together otherwise it would drop to bits in my hands.
True crime, too, has always held me spellbound. As a little girl I’d become lost in any huge feature in the Sunday colour supplements about mysterious disappearances or serial murders. (I was a strange child and have, arguably, grown up to be an even stranger adult, who would go on to become a crime reporter. Yes, I even earned my living from crime!)
I took Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd out of the library when I was 12 or 13 and marvelled at such a terrific piece of plotting. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean.
Throughout my life since, I’ve always had a crime fiction book on the go. I didn’t care (and still don’t) that some of my friends sneered. It wasn’t because I knew that one day crime fiction would become “respectable”, it was because I enjoyed it, and why should I explain myself, anyway.
It’s a measure of how far crime fiction has come that it has an Imagine… programme all to itself about women crime writers, with contributions from Val McDermid (Wire in the Blood) and Paula Hawkins, who wrote the hugely successful The Girl on the Train, recently made into a film with Emily Blunt.
I read a sample chapter of Hawkins’s book months before it was published and was intrigued, though I would never in a thousand years have predicted how successful it would become.
Television has always surfed on a wave of crime fiction, because it’s the most bankable of genres. The current biggest drama on television is The Missing (ending tonight), which is crime fiction, a multilayered mystery about disappearances.
Mysteries are, of course, at the very heart of any crime story and the need to solve a puzzle surely runs deep in most of us. There’s an intimacy about crime fiction in both books and television that you don’t find anywhere else.
It’s no accident that Christmas has always been associated with “cosy” murders – Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was the big hit last year, her Witness for the Prosecution is at the heart of the BBC Christmas schedule this year.
There’s nothing like cuddling up with a fictitious death, is there, as the lights twinkle on the tree? It’s probably something to do with escapism. We lead comfortable lives for the most part, and even though the planet is currently an echoing barrel of noise and anger, there’s nothing like disappearing into someone else’s (harmlessly scary) world.
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