Why are women so attracted to crime fiction?

Genevieve is currently working with the Crime and Thriller department for two weeks in order to gain work experience. Look out for another article from her on her experience in our department.



“Crime novels are about life, death, love, loss and broken minds”

Alex Barclay


I read a fascinating article in the Irish Examiner about female crime fiction writers and it got me thinking…why are women so attracted to this particular genre?


The presumption is that men, seen as naturally more aggressive, are more inclined to read novels of crime, violence, blood, guts and gore. But it seems as if the opposite is true.


The article, Murder, She Wrote by author and journalist Declan Burke, explores the opinions of four of the leading lights of the current wave of Irish crime writing – Alex Barclay, Arlene Hunt, Niamh O’Connor and Ava McCarthy. All women who prove that the female author is very often deadlier than the male.


One of the explanations given for this gravitation towards the more sinister side of fiction is due to what Barclay sees as “a compulsion to understand” a broken mind; a need to know how the darker side of humanity works. Perhaps the reason for this attraction is that crime fiction gives women an opportunity to explore the psychological motivations of a killer in the safe confines of the pages of a book.


Maybe it has something to do with empathy or the emotional attachment towards the characters in crime fiction novels. As Hunt puts it “women really engage with the characters and enjoy the emotional roller-coaster that begins when you crack the spine of the new crime fiction novel”. McCarthy agrees:


“I think women simply read more fiction than men,” she says, “be it crime or otherwise, so by extension most crime fiction readers are therefore going to be women. And good crime novels, like any genre, deal with strong characters and emotions, so maybe it’s that old chestnut about women being more in touch with their feelings. Maybe women allow themselves to engage more completely with the emotions of good stories, while men, by and large, like to stick with the facts of the real world.”

Could the thirst for escapism also attract women to crime fiction? It is possible that women are more susceptible to the pull of a good crime novel; diving into another world that is completely different from their own. As Hunt puts it, “on the whole women really enjoy dipping into other people’s lives. I know I do.”


Maybe there is a correlation between writing and reading crime fiction. As McCarthy puts it, “for me, writing is just like reading — it’s all about escape. So when I write, I like to escape into a world I don’t normally inhabit.”

O’Connor, on the other hand, draws inspiration for her novels from real events.

“I see huge parallels with London in the 1990s and the onset of our recession and the resignation of Bertie Ahern,” she says, “who was, like Maggie Thatcher, in office for 11 years, and was repeatedly voted in despite his track record as a former Finance Minister who didn’t have a bank account. I suspect the people who voted for Maggie Thatcher didn’t like her much as a human being, either.”

Male or female, hard-boiled reality or escapist fantasy, the business of writing crime fiction is the best possible career, according to Alex Barclay.

“Writing is an incredible job,” she says. “You are master of your own universe, you get to create worlds, and people, and sick scenarios, all the while drinking coffee and eating cake. What more could anyone want?”

hidemeWhat do you think? Have these authors got it right or do you have a different opinion on why women are attracted to this genre? Let us know your opinion by commenting on this article and the best comments will receive a copy of Hide Me by Ava McCarthy, her latest heart-stopping thriller. We’ve got 5 to give away – so get writing!

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