Another Feeling, A Different Culture*

Culture in Crime FictionIf you’re kind enough to read this blog on a regular basis, you may remember that I’m working on some research into the way crime fiction teaches idioms, language and culture. One set of questions I asked in this research has to do with readers’ interest in culture. Are readers aware of and interested in the cultural details and context that they encounter in their crime fiction? Here are a few things I found when I looked at the data that you folks were kind enough to help me get.

One question I asked was whether crime fiction readers choose novels because of their cultural content. That is, do readers choose a novel because it’s set in one or another cultural context?


Novels Based on Culture


As you see, culture is an important factor in choice of book, at least among the participants in this study. One hundred seven (just over 86%) of the 124 participants said that they often or sometimes choose a crime novel because it’s set in a different culture. This, to me, suggests strongly that crime fiction readers are interested in other cultures and in cultural content.

It’s one thing to be interested in culture. It’s another to follow up on that interest. So I also asked about topics that readers explore further after they’ve read a crime novel. I wanted to see whether readers are interested enough in culture and language to look up extra information and read more. Here’s what I found.
Culture and Further Exploration


Of the 124 participants, 65 (52%) said they look up further information on culture or idioms/language. This certainly isn’t an overwhelming trend. But it does suggest that readers are interested in learning more about culture, and that crime fiction may play a role in sparking that interest.

Regardless of whether readers want to explore culture in depth, it seems very clear from the data I examined that readers do want cultural authenticity in their crime fiction. I asked participants how important it is to them that their crime fiction represent culture in authentic ways. Here was the response:


Cultural Authenticity


It’s very clear that readers find authenticity important; 114 (almost 92%) of this study’s participants reported that it’s either very or somewhat important to them that their crime fiction be culturally authentic. To me, this implies that culture is interesting and important enough that readers want it portrayed accurately. It seems that, just as readers want their characters to be believable and the plot elements to be credible, they also want the cultural context to be realistic.


In Other News…


I’m planning to present this data at a conference next week. Where? I thought it might be fun to invite you to use your own detective skills to find out. So I’ve invented a little game/competition. Here’s how it will work:

  • Each day, beginning today, I’ll provide one clue as to my destination.

  • Anyone who’s interested is invited to put the clues together and see if you can work out where I’ll be.

  • The first person to get the right answer wins!


What’s the prize?

I will write a special short crime story just for the winner. That means the winner gets to tell me where the story will take place, what kinds of major characters are involved, and so forth. I’ll use those details and write the story. Then, I’ll post it right here on this blog.

If you’re the winner, you can send me a ‘photo to inspire the story, or you can simply tell me what you want the story to be about; you can even have me put you in the story if you wish. I only have two conditions: I won’t write ‘torture porn’ or extremely violent kinds of stories; and I won’t write stories in which harm is done to children or animals. Otherwise, I will be your ‘story genie’ 😉

Wanna play??

Here is your first clue:




I will need this in order to get where I’m going. Good luck!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sass Jordan’s Going Back Again.


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39 responses to “Another Feeling, A Different Culture*

  1. Thanks for sharing your results Margot. This is really interesting. At the craft fair on Sunday I was having a similar discussion with an avid reader of scandi crime fiction. She said she loved learning about the landscape and the social mores of the people. I definitely think it’s a particular trait of crime fiction fans. As for the competition, well I’m game 🙂

    • Glad to hear you’re up for playing, D.S. 🙂 – And I think you’re absolutely right that crime fiction fans do like to read about different cultures and the lifestyles of their members. I know that’s certainly true of me. I’ll bet you had a great discussion with your visitor on Sunday!

      • I love it. There’s nothing better than talking to someone that shares the same passion as you for a subject. You can learn so much. I’ve really been enjoying these fairs and I think I’ll defintiely be doing some more next year. Even if I don’t sell a lot of books at them it’s all about networking a lot of the time and this is an affordable way for me to do it x

        • It certainly sounds it, D.S. Those fairs, and other festivals like them, are perfect places to meet readers and talk about crime fiction. And you get to meet people who do the most interesting crafts, too, which I think is fabulous. As you say, too, it doesn’t cost a lot and doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time away from home. It’s win/win as I see it.

  2. This is a real bee in the bonnet for me: I love reading about different cultures, and crime fiction is a great way of showing us the little customs and habits in the real lives of people living in a certain society – or even a subgroup. I am certainly up for the competition. Except you need a passport pretty much anywhere you go abroad, right? Will have to wait for the 2nd clue…

    • Well, that’s true, Marina Sofia. This clue only gives a small piece of information, but there’ll be more… I completely agree, too, that crime fiction is a really effective tool for teaching culture, since it shows the way the characters live, the way they speak, and so much more. It’s a way for readers to experience other cultures without feeling as though they’re reading a textbook – and without the expense, exhaustion and hassles of travel.

  3. As always it is fascinating to see the results of your survey and in many ways the overall results mirror my interest in other cultures. I’m very intrigued about your trip and the unique prize so I will be putting my (poor) detective skills to the test.

    • You may be better at detection than you think, Cleo! I’m glad you found these results interesting. I agree with you, too, that reading about other cultures is part of what makes crime fiction so interesting. It’s a way of immersing oneself in the ways that other people live.

  4. Marianne Wheelaghan

    Fascinating results, much of which i have suspected but never had proof of – until now! As for the competition, you have hooked me in, line and and sinker. Eagerly awaiting clue number two!

  5. Very interesting, and I’m glad I’m not alone in wanting the cutural aspects to be authentic.

    Hmm… OK, I’m ready to rule out Mars as your destination, since I don’t think you need a passport to get there… 😉

    • 😆 No, FictionFan, not Mars! But no worries; you have an unlimited number of tries. And no, you are absolutely not the only one who wants cultural aspects of stories to be authentic. Doing otherwise, at least for me, means that a novel just doesn’t ring true, and that pulls the reader out of the story.

  6. Very interesting, and thanks, Margot. I was also intrigued that so few said they look up idioms specifically (I was one of them!). I find idioms of different countries fascinating.
    When can we start guessing your location—and do we get more than one guess?

    • You can start guessing as soon as you think you know, Caron 🙂 – And guess as often as you wish. I’ll bet it won’t take you long. As to idioms, I find them absolutely fascinating, too. If I can’t get them by context, I do try to get them through looking them up. But even if there aren’t a lot of us who do that, specifically, it seems an awful lot of us enjoy learning about culture, and we do want to know more about it.

  7. Kathy D.

    Fascinating study. I definitely am one reader who likes to read about different cultures and their history via crime fiction. I’ve learned a lot this way.
    Also, we can rule out Boston, Chicago, Raleigh and Seattle for your destination. That’s all we know.

    • You’re absolutely right, Kathy. I am not bound for any U.S. destination. And I’m with you about how much we can learn about other cultures and ways of living via crime fiction. I know I’ve learned a lot that way.

  8. Great bit of research, really enjoyed seeing those results. One of the things I like about the Kindle is that you can easily find the definition of most words by highlighting – and those definitions frequently surprise and impress me as they say ‘archaic US slang’ or ‘Australian usage only’ for some word.(Examples would be ‘spruik’ and ‘ring-in’ in an Australian book). A really great way to learn more about another culture…
    Now that I think about it, I should make a note of such words as I come across them, and keep a list.

    • You’ve got a well-taken point, Moira! I’ve found the Kindle to be very useful that way. And I like the fact that you can see those words and idioms in the context in which they’re used. That makes them all the easier to remember. Thanks for the kind words.

  9. Janet Fearnley

    An intriguing question but look and you will find, as the saying goes. So Margot off to The University of NZ, Aukland? Although I’ve not been myself I have friends who have been and it’s a wonderful country. Hope you have time to explore and enjoy too. Tēnā koutou katoa (Greetings all)

    • Well, well, Janet, you certainly are a detective! Most impressive! I am indeed going to be presenting at the University of Auckland next week, and am very much looking forward to it. I’ve been to New Zealand a few times, and richly enjoyed every visit.
      You’ve won the prize! Just email me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) and let me know what you want in your story, and I’ll do the magic from there!

      Thanks for playing!

  10. Col

    Interesting data – enjoy your trip then!

  11. Margot: Hardly seems fair to have eliminated only one country, the U.S., by showing the passport and have Janet solve the mystery. I doubt she ever has to read to the end of a mystery to solve it.

  12. Kathy D.

    Really! We may need a mystery about New Zealand then.

  13. Janet has has beaten us all if only I would have paid more attention to your previous posts, I should have identified NZ as your destination, Margot.

  14. Interesting results, Margot. I prefer history over culture in crime fiction, though, among other elements, suspense would be right on top. Very kind of you to offer to write an exclusive story for us, Margot.

    • Thanks, Prashant. I enjoy reading about the history of a place, too, as I read. In fact, as you can see, 50 of the participants in this study (41%) agree with you about the appeal of learning history. So you are by no means alone. And of course, a crime novel needs to have suspense!

  15. The results of these polls are always fascinating. Gee, the clue isn’t much to go on, Margot. Always the teacher. 😀 Next, it’ll be…dare I say…quiz time.

    • Ah, yes, the quiz!! Coming up soon, Sue, so you’ll want to study… 😉 – And I thought the data was really interesting too – and helpful to me as a writer.

  16. I wish my investigative skills were better Margot – this sounds like such fun!

  17. Kathy D.

    I am embarrassed to say to friends during a discussion that I learned about a particular historical or current cultural fact or aspect of a country from crime fiction or a blog about it. Whether it’s about the Nazi ratlines after WWII, the Scottish Clearances in the 1800s (and potato famine), French medieval myths, tourism and culture in Venice, life in Rio, surrogacy in India, fractals (!), the New Zealand anti-apartheid protests — and so much more — I learned a lot from mystery fiction.
    I even learned from Gordon Ferris about Scottish Yiddish, a dialect of my grandparents’ first language, which I would love to hear.

    • I do know what you mean, Kathy. And yet, as I think about it, I think learning is beneficial no matter the source – so long as what one learns is accurate. And like you, I have learned so much from crime fiction, and that includes culture.

  18. Pingback: One Special Treasure, Part I | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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