The genres of crime and horror have shared a fond place in my heart for a very long time. I was devouring books by both Stephen King and Agatha Christie by age 14.
As a writer of both crime and horror fiction, I sometimes find myself in a difficult position when it comes to marketing, as the two genres do not always fit easily together. Crime fans often don’t read horror, and vice versa. Horror fans like spooky goings-on and things that go bump in the night. Crime fans like the puzzle, the thrill of the chase, the solving of the mystery, but they like their murders to be based in reality, without the added complication of supernatural influences.
To me, the two genres have a great deal in common. Both genres generally have a gruesome death featuring fairly early on. Often in horror, as in crime, there is a hunt for the killer. However, in horror the murderer often turns out to be a supernatural entity, and sometimes there is no motive beyond the fact that the supernatural entity represents evil in its purest form, killing for the sake of killing. In crime, the killer is a human being, no matter how sick and depraved, and there’s generally something motivating them to kill – even in a serial killer novel, where the bad guy is a twisted killer being driven to kill by a primeval hunting instinct.
Good and evil are often common themes in both crime and horror novels. In a crime novel, the ‘good guys’ are the ones solving the crime. The ‘bad guy’ is the killer, who will invariably be caught and brought to justice in the end. In most of Stephen King’s horror novels the ‘bad guy’ is the supernatural entity who is driven to kill, while the ‘good guy’ is the human protagonist who works out what’s going on and is inspired to defeat the protagonist. In Needful Things, however, things are much less clear cut. The “bad guy” is the mysterious shop owner who clearly possesses supernatural powers but the deaths that occur are not by his hand – instead he plays upon the personality flaws of the town’s residents and encourages them to kill each other. None of the victims are particularly ‘bad’ people – they’re just not particularly good, either.
In crime as well there are examples of blurred boundaries. In the “Dexter” novels by Jeff Lindsay the protagonist is a serial killer – someone who is driven to kill and would ordinarily be considered a “bad guy”. Dexter, though, is committed to killing other serial killers – people who kill innocents and therefore, in his mind, could be considered “bad guys”. His strict moral code makes him a sympathetic character, in spite of being a psychopath.
Whatever genre I’m reading – or writing in – I like a well-defined storyline. There has to be a beginning, middle and end. Whoever is committing the murders has to be identified, and stopped. I can live without a happy ending, but I want to be left feeling that justice has been done.
For a long time I felt like I was a lone voice out there in support of both crime and horror, though now we have the highly popular genre of urban fantasy, which combines both – writers like Mike Carey and Jim Butcher have supernatural detectives solving murder mysteries, where the murderer turns out to be a demon or a werewolf or a vampire. So it’s not quite as unusual as it used to be to find people who read both crime and horror. And fans of both genres will often dip into urban fantasy as well.
My love of crime and horror has led me to write in both genres, and in many ways I create more work for myself because I have to work at building up two separate fan bases. The people who read my first book, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, might not necessarily enjoy DEATH SCENE, my amateur sleuth novel (out later this year). On the other hand, those who told me they didn’t read the first book because they don’t like spooky goings-on might be persuaded to read DEATH SCENE – nothing scary here, I can tell them. It’s just a good old-fashioned murder plot.
Writers repeatedly face the dilemma of whether they should write what they want to write, or write for the market. The latter option might in the short-term prove more financially viable. But in the long run, you have to be true to yourself, and I’ve always stuck to writing what I wanted to write, regardless of how popular it is. There was a time in the late 90s and early 2000s when horror was decidedly out of favour, particularly in the UK. Now vampires are back on the scene in a big way, and all the book stores have ‘horror’ sections again. Quite often they are full of urban fantasy books, but no matter – vampires and werewolves and things that go bump in the night are cool again. That’s a good thing for horror writers.
And I find myself meeting more and more cross-genre writers of crime and horror these days, which I find reassuring. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one out there.
Sara-Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her husband Chris. She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person.
She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream. Her first novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, was published as an e-book by Lyrical Press, Inc. in 2010. Her next book, DEATH SCENE, is the first in a series about amateur sleuth and Canadian actress Shara Summers, and will be released as an e-book by Lyrical Press, Inc. later this year.
You can learn more about Sara and her writing at her website at http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com or her blog at http://sayssara.wordpress.com.