The Big Score: Soundtracks for Crime Novels

Joker in Dark Knight
Just imagine him looking less sinister when he listens to your Crime Novel Soundtrack
Movies and television shows are interesting forms of entertainment because so many different elements are blended together into one narrative. The scene that a writer constructs is just as important as the way an actor delivers a line in that scene, or the way the director and cinematographer choose to film that scene. One element that often gets overlooked though is music. The right background music can add so much power, drama, and pathos to a film or a television show.

Score music doesn't have to be exclusive to films and television though. One of the great things about reading a novel or a short story is many elements of the narrative are left up to you. So when I read I usually have my iPod handy so I can pick a piece of music to highlight the mood and tone of a scene I'm reading. Many of them are score tracks from great crime and action films.

In this piece I'll share some of the tracks I use on a regular basis when I'm reading crime novels and what scenes I think they're appropriate for. Plus, I've provided YouTube videos so you can decide if you want to include them in your own personal crime novel soundtracks.

“Bank Robbery” [Prologue]– by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard from The Dark Knight Bonus Digital Release

This is a great song to use if what you're reading starts off in media res. If the story you're reading begins with a law enforcer or a law breaker already on the hunt for someone or something try this track. It will add some tension and excitement as you scramble to catch up with your protagonist and what they're after.

“Shells”by Health from the Max Payne 3 Original Soundtrack

Is the investigation heating up? Has the detective stumbled onto a bit of evidence that blows things wide open? Or is the Heist crew gathering all the pieces they need for a big score and trying to avoid the attention of the police? Then this is the track you want to heighten the mood.

“Mombasa”– by Hans Zimmer from Inception (Music From the Motion Picture)

This is the epic chase theme. Is the protagonist trying to catch or escape someone by foot or vehicle? Then this is the song you need to add some extra thrills

“The Host of Seraphim”by Dead Can Dance from The Serpent's Egg

Protagonists in crime novels often experience great loss or come across utterly horrific events. When that happens you'll want to have a track ready to add to the power of those moments. This is just such a track

“Mystery Man” (Album Version)-by Terje Rypdal from Heat-Music From the Motion Picture

Crime stories aren't always about intense action, or horrific discoveries. Sometimes they feature quiet and intensely personal moments between family and loved ones. Here's a track for those moments

“Run Him Over”- by Steve Jablonsky from the Pain & Gain soundtrack

There comes a time in a story where it's time to prep for and embark on the final case, problem, or mission. Here's a song to add to the tension and excitement of those moments

“Cwn Anwn”by Glenn Danzig from Black Aria

This is it! The final battle. The doomsday clock is almost at zero or the villain's headquarters is engulfed in flames.  Those are big moments and when they happen I have this song ready. It especially works for supernatural crime stories. When Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden has his final showdown with his latest big bad this is what I have on in the background.

Now we come to endings, which are incredibly important and will vary wildly depending on what you're reading so I've thrown in a few tracks to try and cover as many bases as possible.

“The Descent”- by David Julyan from The Descent Original Soundtrack Recording

So the protagonist is beaten, battered, and bloody and will be home free if they just make it a few more steps? Or are they having a final showdown with a corrupt police officer or city official? What if they survived everything and are walking out of a dark place and into the dawn? Well this song has you covered for all of those endings.

“Time” by Hans Zimmer from Inception (Music From the Motion Picture)

Here's a song for you when the protagonist  is reflecting back on all the difficult things they've went through and the sacrifices they made. It's a song for the final leg of a painful and emotional journey back to whatever place they call home.

“God Moving Over the Face of the Water” – by Moby from I Like to Score

There's a couple versions of this song, but I chose the more epic feeling one that plays over the end credits of the movie Heat, but is not on the film's soundtrack. It's on the Moby album I Like to Score which features his music that's been in films.

If you know or have the feeling that what your reading is headed towards a happy ending in the final pages, this is the track you want. For me, this is a song all about enjoying the chance to walk in the sunlight after going through hell or walking through dark places.

If you've never scored a book before, I urge you to give it a try using the 10 songs I provided or whatever else you think suits the moment. I'll think you'll find it makes a fun and exciting read even more enjoyable. And if you regularly score your books what are some of the songs and tracks you use?


Dave Richards covers all things Marvel Comics for the Eisner Award-winning website Comic Book Resources and his book reviews and other musings can be found at his blog Pop Culture Vulture.

Read all posts by Dave Richards for Criminal Element.

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