Why Readers Love Crime Thrillers — With Adam Croft

I’m thrilled to host Adam Croft as a guest on the Kill Zone. Adam is one of the leading indie authors in today’s crime thriller market. He’s sold over two million books in the past few years and several times he’s held the #1 Best Seller spot on all of Amazon—ahead of names like JK Rowling, James Patterson, and the King (Stephen King, that is.)

I’m also proud to say (brag) that Adam and I have been friends since 2014. That was before Adam Croft was famous and when I still had hair. We’ve cross-blogged, shared personal emails, had some laughs, and he’s been a highly-influential mentor on my writing and publishing journey through his leadership in The Indie Author Mindset.

But, enough of what’s in it for me. Here’s what Adam Croft has to say about why readers love crime thrillers.

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Human beings are fascinated by death and reading crime thrillers. As morbid and unsavory as that sounds, it’s a good job they are as otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this article and you wouldn’t be reading it.

If we did not have a fascination with death, one of the world’s most popular and enduring fiction genres would not exist and I’d be out of a job. So I’m pretty pleased that we do. But, what has caused us to be hardwired to think in this way? What makes death and murder in particular so fascinating to us?

Fascination goes hand in hand with intrigue, and it is to intrigue that we must turn first. Naturally, human beings are intrigued by why someone would want to kill another human being. To most of us, committing a murder is unthinkable.

Of course, we’ve all known people that we’d love to kill, but actually contemplating doing it is something entirely different. This intrigue surrounding those who do, then, is entirely natural. It’s one of society’s final taboos, and we are naturally intrigued by the ways in which people murder each other.

There’s also a sense of needing to understand, which is what compels our sense of intrigue. Naturally and evolutionarily, we feel the need to understand the situation of murder in order to protect our species and prevent or predict future occurrences. It would be fair to say that this is an in-built, animalistic sense, which puts our fascination at a level much deeper than sheer intrigue.

However, this would be a little too simplistic. Why, then, do real-life murders not fascinate us as much as they did in Victorian times, when newspaper circulation figures would regularly treble off the back of a good murder?

Nowadays, we’re far more satisfied to get our dose of death through fiction like crime thrillers. We know fiction isn’t real, so the purely evolutionary theories go out of the window at this point. In my opinion, it’s the complexity and make-up of the murder mystery or crime thriller novel which provides the fascination here.

The truth is that most real-life murder is actually incredibly pedestrian. There’s a fight and someone dies. A jealous husband murders his ex-wife. There’s a gangland killing. No particular element of mystery comes into play with any of these situations, which leads me to posit that our fascination with murder is no longer rooted in our desire to protect our species but instead with the logic of the puzzle and the mystery surrounding a well-constructed crime thriller novel.

The longevity of the mystery/crime novel is rooted in its complexity and infinitely changing forms. The number of ways in which a crime is committed, and the reasons for someone wanting to commit it, is what keeps crime thriller novelists like me in a job.

A clever and sophisticated plot is what readers crave, and it’s the reason why Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time. Her proficiency for developing the twists and turns and ingenious plots for which she was most famed is the reason why people keep going back to her time after time.

The most us modern-day mystery and crime thriller writers can hope for, following far behind in her wake, is that we might be able to side-step the reader somewhere along the way and leave them guessing to the last.

It would be far too simplistic, though, to say that we’re now purely interested in the type of brain-teasing mystery akin to a crossword puzzle. There’s certainly still a psychological element involved, which is why psychological thrillers are huge business.

As a species, we pay attention to these sorts of plots because we have an animalistic need to know we are safe. We need to understand the mind of the killer.

This understanding is the reason why psychology courses and degrees are so popular in the western world, and particularly in Britain, where the murder mystery is particularly venerated.

Human beings have an innate desire to understand ourselves and other human beings.

If you’ll forgive me adopting a purely political point of view for a moment, this is a very heart-warming realization from a progressive perspective, as our need to understand each other as human beings is something which we’ve been sadly lacking for most of our existence as a species.

We can be sure that crime fiction will last, and there are a number of reasons for this. Crime’s bedfellow in terms of sheer popularity is undoubtedly the romance genre; a type of book which offers resolution and has well-rooted and respected forms and conventions.

Naturally, it has had to adapt and recent years have seen the rise of rom-coms and even the sub-genre of erotica (although many, including myself, would either put erotica into a sub-genre of thrillers or a genre all of its own).

Mystery, too, has had to adapt. Writers such as P.D. James have prided themselves in breaching the (admittedly small) gap between crime and literary fiction, combining a well-written book with a tight and intricate plot.

It would be worth me noting here that the concept of ‘literary fiction’ does not exist to me. The only great literature is a book that you enjoy. Crime thriller novels, generally speaking, have the added benefit of being stripped of pretension and putting the reader first, not setting the writer on an undeserved pedestal. The enduring popularity of the genre is a testament to its superiority.

It would be fair to say, then, that the crime thriller and mystery genre can be expected to live on. As our fascination with death and our need for logical complexity continue to be fused together beautifully by fiction, we can be assured of even more great books to come. It’s because people love to read crime thrillers.

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With over two million crime thriller books sold in over 120 countries, Adam Croft is one of the most successful independently published authors in the world. His crime thrillers Her Last Tomorrow and Tell Me I’m Wrong topped the Amazon and USA Today charts. His new release, What Lies Beneath, starts a new series for Adam that might exceed everything he’s already accomplished.

And, Adam Croft was an accomplished stage actor before turning indie-writer ten years ago. His first crime thrillers were the Knight & Culverhouse series. He also developed his Kempston Hardwick series before writing super-successful stand-alones. Now, Adam is off on a new venture with What Lies Beneath being Book 1in the Rutland series where he bases crime thriller fiction on a real location in the UK. It’s available for pre-order now and out on July 28th, 2020.

The University of Bedfordshire bestowed Adam an Honorary Doctor of Arts for his outstanding contribution to modern literature. As well, Adam has been a regular on the HuffPost, BBC Radio, The Guardian, and The Bookseller. He also hosts a regular podcast called Partners in Crime with fellow bestselling author Robert Daws.

But, for Kill Zone followers—especially crime thriller writers—Adam Croft has outstanding resources through his Indie Author Mindset books, courses, podcasts, and Facebook Group. Adam states his tipping point as a commercial writer was when he changed his mindset to believe in himself and treat his writing as a professional business.

Obviously, it paid off.

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19 thoughts on “Why Readers Love Crime Thrillers — With Adam Croft

  1. Welcome to TKZ, Adam!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking and insightful post into crime novels. You bring to mind John Donne: “Any man’s [or woman’s!] death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…”

    Death is the most profound change that humans undergo, yet it is also unknown and unknowable, the great mystery of what lies beyond.

    I also think crime fiction provides the justice that humans hunger for in an unjust world. That’s why I write this genre.

    I’ll check out your new series, as well as Indie Author Mindset!

    Thanks for visiting TKZ, Adam. Come back soon.

  2. Human beings have an innate desire to understand ourselves and other human beings.

    So true, and not just for murder mysteries and thrillers. I think it’s why I write what I write, and why readers read my genre. It’s not really a genre (I don’t think), but the whole scope of family relationships…which includes some bumping people off, like nasty Uncle Bert…*ahem*…is fraught with how humanity relates to humanity. And it’s fascinating to me.

    I’m relatively new at authoring-busy learning and practicing, and TKZ is my second stop of each morning.

    Welcome, Mr. Croft! Thanks for your very interesting post. I just pre-ordered your latest, and can’t wait to dive in. 🙂

  3. Hi, Adam

    Welcome to TKZ! Thanks for a very insightful look at why we read crime thrillers. I agree that most real life murders don’t have the appeal of fictional ones, which often possess complex psychological aspects, as well as allow the reader to try and put the pieces of a puzzle together.

    Reading to understand the why behind a murder is certainly a reason we read crime thrillers. I also think we read crime thrillers/mysteries for the emotional hit of working out a mystery, just as readers read romances for that feeling of falling and being in love, and sci-fi readers for that “sense of wonder.”

    Thanks again for a thought provoking post!

    • In my experience, most murders aren’t very interesting. They’re usually pathetic situations. However, there are some times when they challenge the greatest of sleuths and they’re cases you just can’t make up.

    • I think that’s exactly it. Most policing is boring; most murders are mundane and predictable. Then again, most relationships don’t have the drama of a good romance novel.

  4. Good morning, Adam! Welcome and thank you for your excellent article. I particularly liked this:
    ” our fascination with murder is no longer rooted in our desire to protect our species but instead with the logic of the puzzle and the mystery surrounding a well-constructed crime thriller novel.”
    That is exactly the reason I write mysteries. They require the reader to engage their problem-solving gray cells and put together a solution based on just a part of the picture. I think it’s satisfying for readers as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place faster and faster until the final reveal.
    But it’s not enough to know who the killer is. As you stated, “Human beings have an innate desire to understand ourselves and other human beings.” So the denouement has to uncover the inner workings of the murderer.
    That’s a lot to accomplish in a book! I’m working toward that end, and I just ordered “What Lies Beneath” to help me understand the genre better.
    Best wishes with the book. I’m going to check out Indie Author Mindset. Although I’m traditionally published, I’ve been tempted lately to dive into the other end of the literary pool.

    • Hi Kay – Hopefully Adam will show up here in a bit. He’s in England and 8 hours ahead of the NA west coast. Everything in The Indie Author Mindset program is solid, practical, and useful material. I adopted this methodology this past February and made a long-term commitment to it. My writing world has phenomenally changed and I attribute it to changing my mindset about treating this as a business rather than a hobby. My output has tripled and I’ve even tried “marketing”. What do you know… it works!

      • I am re-reading James Scott Bell’s book “How to Make a Living as a Writer.” He addresses both traditional and indie publishing and I’m paying careful attention to the indie chapter now.

        I look forward to checking out what Adam has to offer.

        • I just dug that one out of my archives, too, Kay. I found out I haven’t even read it yet.

          Slapping the snot out of myself now… 🙂

  5. Thanks Kay! Crime definitely appeals to my logical, process-driven nature. Although, having said that, I’m sure I’d be useless as a real-life detective because it’s so different to fictional murder-solving.

    I really hope you enjoy ‘What Lies Beneath’. It’s been my biggest-selling pre-order to date, and is my first book set in a real location. It’s a place I know well and visit weekly, and I’ve been having sleepless nights for months about how it’ll be received. Fingers crossed I get a full night’s sleep next Tuesday!

    On The Indie Author Mindset, I think there’s a huge amount that trad-pub authors can gain from it, too. As you’re probably aware, the gap has been bridged recently, with trad-pub authors being left to do much of their own marketing and communications and publishers providing less support than ever.

  6. Thanks so much for stopping by The Kill Zone blog, Adam. May your imposter-syndrome insecurity vanish when What Lies Beneath opens to #1 on all of Amazon on July 28. And thanks for your influence on me and other writers – Indie & TP.

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