Sex in Crime Fiction

I’ve had a few discussions around the topic of sex in crime fiction lately. There seems to be a general feeling that sex—as it relates to the protagonist—doesn’t belong anywhere in this genre, and I have to admit that I’m not sure why.

Some crime fiction can be fairly dark. Many crime writers don’t shy away from describing the most terrible of slayings, and Ann and I are among them. One way to convey the horror of a life being taken is to describe the sheer brutality of the violation as seen through the protagonist's eyes. For us, this savagery segues directly to the unforgiving forensics of the investigation, so that type of descriptive storytelling is an important component of our writing. It sets the scene and the atmosphere, and allows the reader to experience the same horror that drives our protagonists.

So the question is—why do some crime writers, who describe death to the nth degree, consider sex to be a taboo subject, especially within the bounds of a relationship? Many of these writers are more likely to ‘close the door’, leaving that aspect of the protagonist’s life to the readers imagination, but this feels like a cop out to me. If you're delving into a multi-faceted character's life, doesn't that also include his or her personal life? As a reader, don't you want to know what drives the characters in all ways?

To be honest, writing a death scene is easier than writing a good sex scene. And it’s interesting that while no one assumes you’ve murdered someone and are drawing on the experience to write a slaying, everyone assumes that they’re looking directly into your personal life when you write a sex scene. This is a bigger issue for erotica writers, but it still applies to anyone writing this kind of material. And then there’s always the fear you might get laughed at for making the attempt in the first place.

In our series, we took that step and gave our characters a scene like this in A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH. There was a definite lead up to it in the first book and another moment earlier in the second book, so it didn’t feel right to suddenly close the door on them at that point. Would it have been easier to? Absolutely. I always find sex scenes are a struggle to get right; they need to be an emotional moment, not a tab-A-into-slot-B mechanical description. But would it be fair to a reader who is emotionally invested in the characters and their relationship to suddenly have to imagine their big moment? I didn’t think so.

Even though we write crime fiction, it’s not one-note storytelling. The relationship between the male and female leads is crucial to work of the team and the over-arcing storyline, and it deserved a little time and attention.

So what do you think about mixing sex and genre fiction? Do you feel that it belongs only in the romance genre and you’re doing your readers a disservice if you mix genres? Or do you feel that readers like a complex story with different areas of the protagonists’ lives fully fleshed out? I’d love to hear your opinions, so please share!

Photo credit: madcowk