Lee Child’s foreword to UEA’s 2022 Crime Fiction MA anthology, published by Egg Box and available HERE
I believe that crime fiction just overtook romance as the most popular genre with UK readers. Or maybe the two categories are still locked in a back-and-forth struggle for the top spot. I’m not sure. But whichever, there’s no doubt that between them the two have absolutely dominated eyeball time over the last many decades.
As they should. After all, what is fiction’s purpose? It’s to give us what we don’t get in real life – the chance to live an alternate life, to see and do and feel things we otherwise wouldn’t.
At the initial level, crime fiction is consolation. In real life, if your car gets nicked or your lawnmower gets stolen out of your shed, you’re never going to see them again, and the police are never going to catch the guys who took them. The cops probably won’t even bother to come over. You’ll live with a dull buzz of frustration and a rankling sense of vague injustice.
But in a crime novel, you bet you’ll get your stuff back. The thieves will be caught and punished. By the novel’s end – after many hiccups along the way – order will be restored, and the feeling of frustration and injustice will be replaced by a tight-jawed smile of satisfaction. You’ll get what you don’t get in real life.
And more. Perhaps you’ll get an illuminating analysis of why crimes happen, for what social reasons, and where, and in what circumstances. You’ll meet different people, with different backgrounds and different priorities. Crime novels – perhaps by default – have become the last socially realistic genre we have. Today we read Dickens to find out what life was really like in the distant past. Who will people read a hundred years from now to find out what 2022 was really like?
Quite possibly they’ll read the authors in this collection. Right now they’re just starting out. Some might prosper and become famous names, with enduring titles recalled with admiration and affection. If they do, all credit to them. Their task is not easy, and success is a distant and fragile goal.
All credit to the University of East Anglia, too. It’s the UK’s pre-eminent writers’ university, and had the guts to introduce a crime-fiction MA that treats the genre with seriousness but not preciousness. I have visited many times and have always been impressed. So enjoy the samples herein – fierce, new, original and compelling – and then put the book away. Check it again ten years from now, and see who eventually made it big. I’m sure you’ll find at least one. Maybe more.