It's everywhere you look. Go into your local supermarket and look at the book charts. You will see that, barring a few books from other genres, crime and thriller books dominate. At the moment, James Patterson's latest rules. If you watch/listen to soap operas, nothing get the ratings up and viewers jaws hitting the floor than a good murder mystery. Eastenders and Hollyoaks is still running their most talked about storylines (Bobby Beale killing his sister, Lucy, and his family hushing it up in Eastenders and the Lindsey being the Gloved Hand Killer with former serial killer terror, Silas, returning to Hollyoaks) with Neighbours and Home and Away both have whodunnit plots running with no end in sight. If you read/listen/watch the news, shocking and unexplained deaths/murders/crime is usually given top billing. There are TV channels that solely show crime/thriller programmes (Alibi, 5USA and, up to a point, Universal Channel and Sky Living) and TV shows that have a crime/thriller/mystery element to them always get high ratings (Poirot, Marple, Shetland, Vera, Lewis, How To Get Away With Murder, CSI, Broadchurch, Elementary, Scandal, Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries to name a few).
So, why is this genre so popular?
I'm not going to come out and say "I know why!" and explain. I can guess, and with this, I have two possible ideas. Maybe more as I type but let's start with these two.
The first is because we, as humans, are fascinated by the evil that is to take a life. I believe, no matter how good we say we are, we all have the potential to commit a murder or any form of evil. We watch/read/listen to the stories and wonder to ourselves how someone "normal" could do that. How could they kill someone or a group of people and then carry on as if nothing has happened? And how far do we need to be pushed before we do that? What would cause us to harm another? We watch TV shows or read crime books and examine characters and watch them unravel as they are confronted by the police or someone who is investigating the crime. Did they do it to protect someone they loved? To keep a secret hidden? Or for a reason we just can't understand? Or do they just enjoy the power of taking another's life? Authors such as Ruth Rendell, PD James and Kathy Reichs look at what makes us human and push us to ask us how far would we go? We are fascinated with the darkness that lives inside each and every one of us.
The second is, I think, a bit of a selfish reason. We want to be smarter than the person trying to solve the crime. Ok, bear with me on this one. When you watch TV crime show, where the crime is solved within that hour long episode, how many of us watch the first ten to fifteen minutes? Usually within hour long crime dramas, the first ten to fifteen minutes usually introduce viewers to the killer and viewers are waiting for the detective to clock on that it's them. This rule isn't a steadfast rule. In TV shows such as Rizzoli and Isles, this rule isn't usually introduced in more recent episodes/seasons. It's our vanity. We want to solve the crime faster and smarter than the people on the TV.
It's the same with books. We read crime/thriller books and we are trying our damnest to be smarter, not only the detective in the book, but smarter than the author because we figured it out before the grand reveal. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it wrong. And sometimes, the author pulls the rug from under us so fast, we don't know what happening till our heads hit the floor. Take Agatha Christie, for example. She is called the Queen of Crime, and with good reason. If you have read And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or see her play, The Mousetrap, how many of you can honestly say you saw those endings coming?
A third reason for this is that it defines our fairytale-like belief that good triumphs over evil. With all the horror we know happens in our world, we want/need something to prove to us that good will win. When we read a crime book, we know from the off that the murderer will be caught and justice will be served. When we watch a soap opera such as Eastenders or Hollyoaks, we are watching, waiting for the moment when the truth is outed, the villains to be arrested and go the jail and everyone else to live a happy, safe life.
But that isn't always the case. Sometimes, the villain is unmasked, but they don't get arrested or they hide the secret so well that only the viewers/readers know the truth. This is what happened in Karen Slaughter's Kisscut and Kathy Reichs's Monday Mourning. And how many murderers are they in soaps that we have "forgiven" because of one reason or another.
My final reason (yes, this is my final reason, otherwise I could just keep going with this) is because it's safe and fun. We know that when we start reading a crime book or a crime TV show that the baddie will be caught in the end, good triumphs over evil and it makes us think "What if...?", but it's a safe way to look into this world. It takes us away from our own lives - where we worry about family, friends, pets, work, bills, etc - and we are thrown into a world that could be either very dark and scary where someone is, seemingly, murder for no sensible reason and, the more we look into their lives the darker their world becomes. Or we enter a lighter, cozy world where someone dreadful has died and it's that sweet old lady who drinks tea and write murder mystery novels who solves the crime (although, why the police allow her to enter a crime scene is anyone guess?!).
There are loads of reasons why you love watching a good murder in that awesome TV drama that everyone is talking about. Or maybe that's why you really dislike that thriller book that your grandad gave you. This seems to be question with a lot of answers, some answers meaning more to one person than another. But crime/thriller books/TV shows/movies/podcasts/radio shows are still hugely popular. And they are not going anyway...