It’s official, crime fiction is the most popular genre in the UK, outselling every other category of fiction in 2017 according to Nielsen Bookscan data. We cannot, it seems, get enough of it! This news comes at a time when more and more allegations are being reported via the #MeToo campaign which has empowered victims to step forward and speak up. So why do we still devour crime fiction, in particular psychological suspense, often rooted in domestic situations of abuse and violence?

Amanda Reynolds by David Churchill Photography

Amanda Reynolds by David Churchill Photography

The Staunch Prize is, according to their Twitter bio, ‘On the hunt for Thriller novels that don’t involve violence against women.’ Are they right? Should we be seeking out those novels that focus not only on women as victims but something else? I would argue that we do, even when the subject matter reflects those all-too-common crimes.

Lying To You, explores the aftermath of an accusation made by a student against their teacher. Mark Winter was found guilty of rape and sent to prison. It is now ten years later and his victim, Jess, is forced to return to the village where Mark still lives. In moving the time-frame on, I was able to focus on the long-term damage such a traumatic event can cause. The ripples extend well beyond Mark and Jess, to those around them, their allegiance now brought into question.

Behind the headlines, there is always so much more than we know. People we never consider, whose lives are decimated because their husband, wife, sister, brother, partner, are the victim…or the accused. Those who stand at their shoulder on the steps of a court. These are the people crime novels bring us, not just the protagonist and antagonist, but the characters who stare at their partner across a table and wonder, just for a second, if they might have done that unthinkable thing.

When I began writing Lying To You, I had intended to write from Mark and Jess’s points of view, but Karen, Mark’s wife, fascinated me more and more. She is barely functioning, popping pills like sweets to deal with Mark’s retreat into himself. They have survived scandal, just, and his prison sentence, but can they survive this final test as Jess returns to their lives? I wondered how Karen kept faith in her husband, shared a home, her life, her bed, with a man who had denied everything and still been found guilty. Was it possible to remain certain of his innocence, after all these years? In many senses, Karen is also a victim. She has made a choice, that she believes her husband. A choice driven by love, loyalty and to protect their daughter from further trauma, but what if that was the wrong decision?

In crime novels, readers get the chance to live the lives of the characters within, to imagine, in a safe environment, the unimaginable. In domestic settings, that feeling can be all-too-real, the jeopardy greater as it’s plausible any of us could be placed in that position. Crime writers may write about the worst things in life, but what fascinates them, and their readers, is the resonance of emotions when we ask ourselves, what would we do if it were us?

The great Maya Angelou said, ‘At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’

A brilliant crime novel is memorable because of the emotions you experience as you read it, as visceral and real as the characters or plot. That’s what we remember and that’s why crime, in my opinion is the most popular, genre, and that’s why I love writing psychological suspense.

Empowerment comes in many forms and long may it continue.