Readersforum's Blog

May 14, 2013

Music to murder to: crime writers on their killer soundtracks

'OK, OK, we'll go with Band of Horses' … music is always a personal thing.

‘OK, OK, we’ll go with Band of Horses’ … music is always a personal thing.

You’re more likely to see other crime writers at gigs than literary events, so what role does music have in the creation of crime fiction?

By Martyn Waites

Music and crime fiction. They go so well together that it’s become something of a cliche. You know the kind of thing: the lone detective who comes into his apartment late at night, gets a beer or bourbon and stares out of the window wracked by existential angst at the horror he’s seen, all the while listening to cool jazz. And it’s always cool jazz – never Chris Barber doing When The Saints Go Marching In. Same with Morse and his opera. Always dark and Wagnerian – never Pirates of Penzance. I know this is shorthand to show the detective is troubled about what he (usually he) has seen and what he should have done but, really, is it an accurate picture? And is it only a boy thing?

So what role does music play in the creation of crime fiction? Is there such a thing as a killer soundtrack? And does the music crime writers write to differ from that of other writers? I should know the answers. As well as being the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime writing festival’s reader in residence I’ve also been a professional crime novelist for over 15 years and, like most men in their 40s, an amateur musicologist.

These days crime writers are more likely to be seen at gigs than literary events. As well as passing on new books they’ve discovered, they’ll be giving other writers mix CDs of new bands. I came across Lord Huron, Caitlin Rose and Night Beds that way. I’m pretty sure crime writers are more likely to be frustrated rock stars than any other genre of writers. In fact, Jo Nesbo actually is a rock star.

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