The Politics of Sex and Crime

What percentage of crimes is rooted in sexual desire, frustration, deviancy, or possession? There are no stats for this broad spectrum, but according to the Bureau of Justice, “One third of female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner.” If you throw in abduction, assault by intimate partners, voyeurism, rape, and sexual abuse, you see that sexually motivated crimes are highly prevalent. But do they make good fiction?

According to an editor at a major publishing house, they’re a tough sell. She says, “The sex crimes issues dealt with in both books remain topics that are very, very tough to make a success.”

Can that possibly be true? How many bestsellers over the years have been about sexually motivated crimes? Don’t many best-selling novelists (especially woman) consistently write about sex-based crimes? One unique example comes to mind. Best-selling Chelsea Cain bases her police procedural/serial killer stories on a sexual attraction between the cop and the killer.

My novels are not based directly on sex crimes, but instead have the underlying theme of sexual politics as the motivation for the crimes. For me, that term covers a lot of ground: gender, sexual identity, sexual desire, sexual suppression, and reproduction. I believe these issues are the cornerstone of human behavior and form the basis (conscious or not) for many of our decisions.

In The Sex Club, the first story featuring Detective Wade Jackson, I wrote about the repercussions of 1) teenage sex, 2) the suppression of sexuality, and 3) limited access to reproductive services. My primary goal though was (and continues to be) to tell a compelling story, and the novel has been extremely well received with hundreds of readers contacting me to say so.

In Secrets to Die For, another fast-moving police procedural, the events that unfold are rooted in the suppression of homosexuality and the violence that can spring from that. The book has just been released, and early readers are enthusiastic.

Thrilled to Death, the third Jackson novel (coming soon), is a story about missing women, and on the surface doesn’t seem to be about sexual politics. But in the long run, sexual deviancy is one of the motivations that sets events in actions.

The Baby Thief, a standalone thriller (early 2011), explores the world of reproduction—women who want children (but not men in their lives) and women who want to have a child and can’t… and the decisions they are driven to make.

This recurring theme is not intentional, but often when I explore connections between crimes that I see in the news, sex issues seem to emerge. Sexual desire (and all its consequences) may be the most powerful motivator of human interactions. (Money is a close second, and the story I’m writing now, Passions of the Dead, is more rooted in that “evil.”)

Do you read or write about sexually motivated crimes? Have you found them to be a tough sell to agents, editors, or others in your reading group?

 

7 Comments
  1. I was surprised to read that sex related crime books are a hard sale. I would think it would be the total opposite as so many plots in books, on TV, or at the movies are based on this premise. I don’t write crime books, but I do enjoy reading them and yours all sound interesting. Whew…my to read list is growing ever so long.

  2. My own work is full of what the FBI terms Lust Murders which is a large umbrella for power crimes…crimes that involve the nasty need for a person to have power of life and death over another in order to get off — that’s about it with many psychos and sociopaths. Many can only feel anything at all only by creating suffering and dying in others. they get a sexual charge out of it all. There have been many cases on the books in every country on the planet. It is a deviance I believe tht dates back to our caveman days and a poison in the brain. Some of us humans are not so evolved as we are de-evolved. To take a life for a few moments of gratification….just to get yourself off is as base a crime as there is. Nowadays we hear a lot about racially motivated crimes, and there are plenty of those all thru history as well, but the sexually-motivated crimes are just horrible and they speak to the dirtiest and darkest side of the human condition. Softening these facts for the sake of making one’s story more cozzy is something I have a problem with, and as to handling it on the page, it is all in the execution and ability of the author. Some do it tremendously well and some do not.

  3. I read these types of books and think they do sell. Look at Linda Fairstein, who is one of my favorite writers. Her protag, Alex Cooper, is a sex crimes prosecutor. Although her books are not graphic, she does draw a clear picture- and I believe her books do very well

  4. Hi 🙂
    Thank you for the thoughtful interesting post.
    I think a lot of crime/thriller/suspense fiction is based on sex/money/revenge crime.
    It makes for an interesting, page-turning novel I think.
    Also I think reading about such crimes, like horror movies, allow us to deal with real life anxieties safely, where the bad/evil one is punished/caught/killed (not so often the case in real life).
    Thanks again,
    RKCharron
    🙂

  5. Since a huge number of crimes are committed over sex in some form — jealousy, hate, lust, etc, if you cut out all the books that in some form have sex crimes in them, I can’t imagine much that would cut into what’s available for us to read.

    I’ve often heard editors makes stupid blanket statements like that. Like cozies are dead, serial killers are dead, vampires are dead (well, I guess in a sense they are!) and so on. Maybe he/she just got a slew of badly written sex crime books and hates seeing them, so declares them so last year so he/she won’t get them anymore.

  6. Anyone who is familiar with either suspense, thriller or mystery works know that crime is usually inspired by either love or money. Sexually motivated crimes fall under the first category, no? I think it’s fascinating how criminal minds work, whatever the motivation, and I believe it’s important to uncover the truths behind them. Is it a tough sell? If it is, like you say, how does one explain the huge success behind certain authors that write about such things?

    Good blog!

  7. nice post… i do think they make for good fiction… perhaps i am biased, I work at the house that publishers Chelsea Cain!!! but from experience I have to say, they’re a heck of a lot of fun to market, too! while nobody’s cup of tea, I do think that a lots of people are fascinated by the workings of sex and control and how that can relate to crime.

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