This week I’ve started reading Death at Rainbow Cottage by Jo Allen, as part of my attempt to broaden my reading horizons. I don’t usually read crime, but it’s nothing to do with the quality of crime novels, simply that I’m not fond of dwelling on the darkness at the heart of the human condition just before I go to sleep. Murder, missing children, blood, jealousy, revenge …
This led me to thinking about the differences between romantic fiction and crime. In some ways they are similar – immensely popular genres, often dismissed as “light” reading, but for me the underlying difference is one of movement.
I’ve always thought of romance as a dance, in which we know the ending and the beginning of the music. Two people take to the floor, they weave a pattern around each other as the music plays, and then, as partners, they leave the dance floor hand-in-hand at the end of the dance. It’s the pattern that is of interest, the steps the couple make while they are falling in love that holds the interest for the reader. There is something comforting about watching the pattern unfold, and knowing where it will eventually lead.
For me, crime fiction is more like a journey into the unknown. The story starts with a crime, and the detective (whether a real detective by profession, or someone who is merely swept up in the events) sets off on the road to find out the truth. There will be diversions and wrong turns along the way and we don’t have a map. We don’t know which of several suspects the detective is going to find guilty, and we don’t know why they have done whatever it is they have done. We do know that we will find out; the journey will have an end, but we don’t quite know how we’re going to get there and what will be waiting for us when we do.
I’m still happier with the comforting dance of romantic fiction, particularly last thing at night, but perhaps (during the day, when there is time to forget about the blood before bedtime) setting off on a journey with an unknown destination can be exciting.
And as for Death at Rainbow Cottage, I’ll be reviewing that soon, once I know where the journey is going!