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Comfort Me with Murders

Imprint, by Rebecca Howard, Tulsa City-County Library Regional Manager

One of the most comforting sounds to me is the iconic dun-dun sound at the beginning of a Law and Order episode.

In fact, this sound so comforts me that reruns of Law and order are the only television I want to watch when I am at home sick. I suppose some people need chicken noodle soup; I prefer crime. I’m not alone in this emotional response to police procedurals.

While it’s accurate that true crime has been having a moment (i.e. “true crime, glass of wine, bed by nine”), crime fiction has long captured our attention dating as far back as Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” On the surface, a fascination with humanity’s worst might seem a bit odd, but the appeal of the genre is less about darkness and chaos and more about the restoration of order and justice. Is it any wonder that I’ve read so much crime fiction in the last couple of years?

Both crime fiction and true crime appeal to readers who enjoy solving puzzles and are curious about what is happening beneath the surface. They might enjoy uncovering clues to a mystery alongside an investigator — or beating said investigator to the solution. Other readers want to explore the psychological aspects of a criminal mind. And, of course, there is always something to be said for sheer escapism—one of the primary reasons many of us read for pleasure in the first place.

I read so many excellent crime novels last year. Here is a list of titles that were among my favorites. And below are a few of my go-to crime fiction and psychological suspense authors:

Laura Lippman
A former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Lippman’s work is a deft blend of hardboiled police procedural and psychological suspense. She gained a devoted readership with her Tess Monaghan series and has numerous stand-alone novels as well. Monaghan is a former newspaper reporter-turned PI who works through details of crimes while rowing every morning on Baltimore’s Patapsco River. She is also my personal favorite fictional detective.

Elly Griffiths
Elly Griffiths is a pen name for Domenica de Rosa, who was told by her agent that she needed a “crime name” after reading her first Ruth Galloway novel, The Crossing Places. Dr. Ruth Galloway is a university professor in archaeology whose small village seems to be a hotbed for unidentified human remains. Griffiths has written additional series, including a new favorite, the Harbinder Kaur novels. Her novels are most often set in rural England and are atmospheric and haunting.

Attica Locke
Attica Locke’s novels are set in Texas and Louisiana and focus on issues of racial injustice. Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is the protagonist of her Highway 59 novels, the award-winning Bluebird, Bluebird and Heaven, My Home. The cinematic style of Locke’s novels are no surprise, as she’s written for the television shows Empire, When They See Us and Little Fires Everywhere.

Shari LaPena
Shari LaPena’s novels would likely be categorized as suspense as opposed to mysteries, if you’re looking for them in a bookstore or library. I’ve been a big fan of hers since I read The Couple Next Door. Its “ripped from the headlines” plot centers on Marco and Anne Conti’s decision to leave their six-month-old baby at home while they attend a dinner party at the next door neighbors’ place. When they return home to find their door ajar and baby Cora missing, their private lives become very public.

Crime fiction is an umbrella term and contains almost countless subgenres. Whether you’re drawn to cozy mysteries with amateur sleuths and recipes, or gritty hardboiled detective stories, the appeal of reading something with clear demarcations between good and evil and the promise of resolution is easy to understand in these times.

So embrace the obsession. Put on your favorite pajamas, grab a warm beverage, and settle in for a winter of Law and Order-style comfort!

When you read a book, you enter a different world. But the act of reading does more than broaden our world-view; it creates empathy, and nurtures civility.
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