Crime Fusion—Writing at the Edge of Genre

Laura Jarratt, author of Without Saying Goodbye comes here to discuss how she makes her own rules when it comes to writing within a specific genre. Read on for her fascinating essay!

Shades of grey have always interested me and maybe that’s why I prefer to write at the edges of any genre, rather than positioned firmly in the middle ground. When it comes to crime fiction, I’m happiest in that spot where crime meets the domestic, where the crime is a vehicle to propel the characters on their journey. Ultimately that’s because what most interests me is people, not plot. It can be difficult to write in the crime genre and find a comfortable place on the edge. I used to say I didn’t write crime or thrillers but then as everyone pointed out to me, my books were always hinged around a crime. I guess what I really meant was that I didn’t set out to write classically in the genre as I thought of it. My one attempt to do any kind of police procedural was an unmitigated disaster and what I learned from it was I really don’t like writing police scenes at all. I can do them but I grit my teeth through it and if I don’t need them for the plot, I avoid them.

I do believe in genre rules and that for the most part, they work. My personal conflict is that a lot of what I read doesn’t fit neatly into genres. I tend to have an eclectic taste and skip around between genres anyway, liking a writer for their style or the characters. When I do read crime fiction, it tends to be the older literature: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Georgette Heyer. That might be because I have a real dislike of crime fiction with a high female body count, and I don’t like gore either. I won’t read anything about male serial killers at all, or with graphic scenes of violence. To me, it’s the story around the crime that is the most interesting and that’s why I’d say that I write crime fusion fiction. But also, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool happy endings person, both as a reader and a writer, and it’s difficult to have that with a high body count.

I much prefer to dabble about on the fringes of the crime and thriller genres, utilizing the crime to create purpose and pace and intrigue, but also keeping it firmly in the domestic realm. That doesn’t suit all publishers and I’ve definitely lost deals because my books don’t pigeonhole neatly into one particular genre easily, but I have to be happy with what I write too. I really don’t set out to write crime at all; it’s more that I create the characters and a crime happens to occur.

I’ve got a terrible habit as a reader of flicking to the last page of a book when I’m about a third into reading it. If the book is compelling enough—or rather the characters are—I keep reading. But in a plot-focused book, I may then well not finish it because I know what happens. This really does spoil crime fiction for me as a reader and I wish I didn’t do it but with the best of the genre, it doesn’t matter because I can enjoy the ride and pick up the clues along the way, and it stays fun. I can imagine I am many writers’ worse nightmare though. All that time carefully crafting a great ending, and then I skip in and read it way too early. I know how frustrating that makes me.

If I reflect, it’s that bad habit which has probably propelled me to where I sit in the fusion bracket. It can’t be about plot for me; there has to be much more. The journey the characters go on has to be the crucial clincher, because that’s what keeps me hooked as a reader.

Absolutely my favourite crime book is Georgette Heyer’s Behold, Here’s Poison. I have always loved Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances—the characters and her wit—so I already like her style. This book has it all for me: a crafted plot with twists throughout, delightfully eccentric characters, a splash of romance without being cloying, and it’s funny too. It’s a murder mystery but it’s also so much more too. I love how she brought her unique brand to the genre and made it something that really stands out. For me, her ability in another genre is what makes her special in this one. And there’s a happy ending. It’s very different to what I write myself but it’s delightful. I also have a closet love for Miss Marple too—and in fact, it’s been years since I read any Agatha Christie so I might just have to go and indulge some of that now.

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