The high we get from crime fiction


 My upcoming novel, A Light in the Desert, revolves around the deadly cold-case sabotage of an Amtrak train in the Arizona desert in 1995, a crime that, 23-years later, still baffles both local and federal authorities.

Books about crime are ubiquitous. And it’s hard to watch TV without being assaulted by countless shows depicting criminals and their misdeeds. Movies, as well, dwell in the darkness of the criminal mind.

So, why do we delight in these stories?

“The public is drawn to true crime because it triggers the most basic and powerful emotion in all of us—fear,” Dr. Scott Bonn, a professor of criminology, wrote in “Why We Are Drawn to True Crime Shows,” an article published in Time Magazine. “As a source of popular culture entertainment, it allow(s) us to experience fear and horror in a controlled environment where the threat is exciting but not real.”

Most of us will never be personally touched by violent crime. That’s good, of course. But we do enjoy the vicarious thrill of observing fictional folks submersed in brutal situations.

“People also receive a jolt of adrenaline as a reward for witnessing terrible deeds,” Bonn said. “Adrenaline is a hormone that produces a powerful, stimulating and even addictive effect on the human brain. The euphoric effect of true crime on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters.”

I admit that, as an author, it’s exciting to write about powerful situations where my characters are facing danger, especially when it’s from the comfort and safety of my office chair. I’m not sure exactly what that says about me. Perhaps Dr. Bonn’s adrenaline rush applies here, as well.

I suppose the good news is I’m not alone in my love of crime fiction. In 2017, the crime/mystery genre produced $728 million in book sales. (I can hear my romance author friends twittering. Yes, I know that romance novels generated $1.44 billion last year, something I’m trying to wrap my head around and definitely a story for another time.)

So, while there are scads of readers out there seeking passion between the pages, there are also many millions of us looking for that adenaline high.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)


Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

298 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.






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