Genre Studies

The crime genre is undoubtedly the core group of Killer Nashville. Within it are over 33 subgenres (depending upon who is counting; and in this case, me).

Let’s take a vast look at what this category includes and suggest some books (or films for the visual) to get your taste buds tingling.

Beginning with Crime

by Clay Stafford,
Founder Killer Nashville,
Publisher Killer Nashville Magazine


No one knows when the first crime fiction appeared.

Steen Steensen Bleicher, Author of The Rector of Veilbye
Steen Steensen Bleicher, Author of The Rector of Veilbye

Some say the first full crime fiction novel (based upon a true incident; but then, aren’t they all to some degree) was from a Danish writer named Steen Steensen Blicher called The Rector of Veilbye in 1829 (sorry, Poe fans).

Prior to this, there were shorter segments within larger works focusing on crime fiction or creative crime nonfiction; there was the Bible (stories I’m thinking of were probably written in 1440 B.C.) as well as plays (for example, wasn’t Shakespeare all about crimes?) and poetry (a Greek poet wrote “Where the 3 Roads Meet” where a god himself is murdered – can’t remember the author if indeed he is known).

Needless to say, crime fiction (or creative non-fiction depending upon the literality of Cain and Abel) has been with us indisputably for over 3,000 years at minimum in various forms. That’s a huge collective body of work.


Crime fiction is one of those genres that can cross several others and thus explains its mass appeal.

Since the moniker “crime fiction” is so vast, I won’t be as detailed as what is (or is not) contained in this general genre as I will be when discussing crime fiction in its various subgenre forms.

The main focus of crime fiction is that it fictionalizes crime. The subgenres such as detective, locked room, legal thriller, private eye, courtroom drama, police procedural, hard boiled, all come when the differentiation is made between the types of crimes, how they occurred, where they are explored, how they are investigated, and in what time of history or location the incidents happened. At focus, though, is the crime. We never lose sight of the crime.

Usually there is some sort of detection (though not always required, as we will see as we examine subgenres and points-of-view in future columns).

What IS always included are crimes, criminals, and (hopefully, depending upon the skill of the writer) the criminals’ motives.

Interestingly enough, the protagonist in crime fiction does not have to be the individual looking for answers; the story could be told from the point-of-view of the criminal instead.


CrimeFictionWith the imaginings of science fiction becoming the reality of today, the future of contemporary-based crime fiction is filled with technology. That’s the change from the Perry Mason days. Historical novels, of course, will continue as they are. But for those of you who write in the present day, remember that the focus of this genre is based upon crime, so put on your criminal mind. Based upon my conversations with forensic experts at Killer Nashville, I predict us seeing an increase in:

  • Government and private (think insurance) data collection agencies using private information against the individual (NSA and NGI scare 1984 to death – Orville is rolling in his grave);
  • Religious-core crime (the rise of extremists everywhere, not just Muslims);
  • The expanded use of biometric identifiers (human body parts and fluids) in the detection of crimes;
  • Legal and court-room dramas where the focus is based totally upon forensic method over legal argument;
  • Cybercrime and computer crime (even crimes committed by computers with artificial intelligence, thus the recent warning from Bill Gates, et al.); and
  • Greater forensic applications in police procedural novels possibly shifting the protagonist from detective to forensic technician.

And, now, for the research (this is what I tell my family when I want to read or watch a movie).


The focus of this column is again not to tell you what to write. It is to get you to note things on your own from multiple genres that can bring freshness to your own plots. I don’t want to put you in a box; I want you to expand the box. But you can’t do that until you’ve truly explored the box as it currently exists; you can’t have a conversation until you have some knowledge from which to discuss. To get started, I’ve been thinking of some of the most impactful crime fiction films and novels.

Here’s an incomplete list, but it will surely give you something to work with as you explore the crime genre. These are in alphabetical order by title because I’m not sure one is better than another in a particular aspect. But all inclusively, these are some basics of the genre.

For films, I’ve included the director’s name and year in case there are multiple titles (I didn’t note the screenwriter simply because they are harder to search, not a deliberate oversight).

For books, I’ve included title and author.

For some, I’ve listed the book version and for others – maybe surprisingly – I’ve included only the film.

Regardless, you won’t waste time with any of these as you explore the genre of crime fiction and, as you read or view, you will note your own observations of what the genre is and the different flavors of each.

To writers I know and who are a part of the Killer Nashville family, if you do not see your book or film below, don’t fret. I may be saving it for a future column. Believe me, with over 408 book and media genres and subgenres, there is room for all.

Oh, I miss my days in the classroom. Thanks for the indulgence.

Please visit Genre 101 for past and upcoming Genre Studies.

Clay StaffordCLAY STAFFORD is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He has sold over 1.5 million hardcover copies of his children’s adaptations and has seen his film work distributed internationally in over 14 languages. Four of his five staged murder mysteries have had Los Angeles premieres. He has reviewed books, plays, and films, writes near-daily book reviews for the Killer Nashville Book of the Day, has been quoted on book jackets, and has edited several PBS companion books associated with national series. Publishers Weekly has named Stafford one of the top 10 Nashville literary leaders playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” not only in middle-Tennessee, but also extending “beyond the city limits and into the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13). He is the founder of Killer Nashville ( and publisher of Killer Nashville Magazine ( He has served on the board of numerous nonprofits. Clay has a B.A. and M.F.A. and has been a professor or lecturer to several major universities. His list of current projects includes the award-winning feature-length documentary “One Of The Miracles: The Inge Meyring Smith Story” ( and the music CD “XO” with fellow mystery writer Jeffery Deaver ( Previously associated with Universal Studios and PBS, he is currently President / CEO of American Blackguard, Inc. (, a publishing / film and television / music / entertainment company near Nashville, Tennessee. More information can be found at