Is "Edgy Christian Crime Fiction" An Oxymoron???


Hey — isn’t crime fiction by it’s very nature supposed to be edgy? I think so!!! Listen, crime fiction starts right at the get-go, or should, with a murder and a less than pretty crime scene. Murder’s not nice. It’s hard to sanitize murder, and the question begs, should we?

Not so much now as in the past, but I’ve read Christian suspense where the author didn’t even get to the murder until I’d gotten through a quarter of the book. Page after page I was wondering, where’s the body? And then, when I got to the crime scene it was obvious the author hadn’t done enough research. The police procedure was waaaaaay off. More than a few Christian suspense novels of the past have had a non-law enforcement heroine traipsing around the crime scene and happening upon vital clues the cops somehow missed. Duh, like that would really happen!

A lot is changing now. I’m glad to see books out like Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand, who knows his police procedure and internal cop politics. He also knows cop culture. He’s got great scenes in cop bars that wouldn’t work as well in a coffee shop or pizzeria. We’re coming to a day when Christian mystery readers no longer have to turn to secular writers to get their crime fiction craving fed. They’re finding satisfying thrillers and detective stories right at home with a Christian world view. They’re finding Christian crime fiction that gets the details right.

Edgy Christian crime fiction is not a cozy mystery with a sermonette added. In fact, crime fiction readers would just assume the author skip the preaching and get on with the chase. For crying out loud, there’s a killer to catch. So, what makes the story Christian? Recurring themes of redemption, forgiveness, restoration, and grace are a few clues that it just might be Christian fiction. Just because a story’s “clean as a whistle” doesn’t make it Christian to my mind.

The edgy Christian crime fiction reader wants to find authenticity in plot, characterization, and scenario. They want to find detectives and beat cops who sound like they actually might be in law enforcement, not lost members of the bridge club in search of a novel to inhabit. The edgy reader won’t be turned off to Christianity if a Christian character stumbles, seriously so. It makes Christianity all the more attractive. God offers us a second chance to get it right.

I’ve heard it said that edgy Christian romance is not afraid to mention body parts. Well, that’s certainly the case in edgy Christian crime fiction, except that the body parts are likely to be strewn all over the crime scene. And talking about body parts, what about a good autopsy scene?

Increasingly we’re seeing good Christian crime fiction out there. James Scott Bell’s Ty Buchanan series is wonderful. [Try Dying, Try Darkness & Try Fear] Ronie Kendig has a couple of action packed crime fiction novels which will knock the sox off most crime fiction readers. [Dead Reckoning & Nightshade (Discarded Heroes series] Of course is you want a rip-roaring ride there’s always Robert Liparulo who will not disappoint. [Germ & Comes A Horsseman].

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About NikeChillemi

Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She writes literature that reads like pulp fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad, and her good guys smarter and better. She is the founder and chair of the Grace Awards, a member of ACFW. She has judged numerous literary awards including the Grace Awards, Carol Awards, Inspy Awards, and the Eric Hoffer Awards. View all posts by NikeChillemi

36 responses to “Is "Edgy Christian Crime Fiction" An Oxymoron???

  • Joy Tamsin David

    I have never read a Christian crime fiction novel (the closest thing I got to one was the romantic suspense that Marc Bertrand co-wrote a with Deeanne Gist). But your article definitely makes me want to add one to my reading list! Thanks Nike!

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  • Tracy Krauss

    Thanks for the great post, Nike. I think that Christian Crime Fiction, (as with ANY fiction worth its salt – Christian, edgy, or otherwise) needs to be authentic. Its why research is such a key factor, as you said – there will always be someone out there who says 'That's not how it really happens!"

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  • Michelle Sutton

    I am such a wimp, wimp, wimp when it comes to grossness and violence that I can't finish Robert's books, intriguing as they are. They are so realistic, I'm like…ah! But hubby loves them. Actually most guys love them. And some gals.

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  • Janalyn Voigt

    Readers of all genres don't want sermonizing, but they do want hope in an increasingly violent world that calls evil good and makes heroes of villains. Any time we can shed the light of truth into the world, we push back the darkness.

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  • Keith Madsen

    Great post, Nike! I especially liked what you said about what makes fiction Christian: "Recurring themes of redemption, forgiveness, restoration, and grace are a few clues that it just might be Christian fiction. Just because a story’s 'clean as a whistle' doesn’t make it Christian to my mind." And if you don't show what we look like when we fall, how ever can you show how glorious it is when we are redeemed? I'm not normally a mystery/crime reader, but your post made me much more likely to read what you have written.

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  • Dan Calabrese

    A good crime novel simply must be thorough about details, particularly as it relates to the crime scene.Much like the discussion on my blog a few days ago, stories of the evil that's done in the world can't be sanitized if we're serious as Christians about taking the fight to the enemy.I especially appreciate the effort to understand cop culture. I have cops in my books but I haven't mastered that like it appears you have.

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  • Brayden Hirsch

    Aside from a few novel like Bertrand's Back on Murder and some of Alton Gansky's books and Ted Dekker and just a few others, there's not really a huge market for crime fiction in the CBA market. I should know.I write it.And when I tried to pitch it to an editor from a major Christian publishing house, he let me read some of it to him and then told me to go to a secular house with it.But yeah, great post. I agree with this completely.

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  • S.R. Van Ness

    I'm grinning!No, we're not looking for Christian Bridge Club members in search of a novel to inhabit. Like you said: "For crying out loud, there's a killer to catch." – Love it.I'm a genre hopper and don't spend a lot of time reading crime fiction, but I've found a couple good ones which don't pander to Grandma's Card-Making Club. Dean Koontz, a secular author (whose novels run the gamut of fantasy and sci-fi to crime, thriller, mystery, and… the undefined) often has both fantastic and redemptive themes run through his gritty, intense novels. Author STEVEN JAMES,who calls himself an author who is a Christian rather than a "Christian Author" is another. Steven's PATRICK BOWERS THRILLERS are novels I cannot read at bedtime and expect to achieve good night's sleep. The writing is evocative on every level and I need to read them before the sun goes down to avoid being visited by nightmarish psychopaths in dreamland! I first fell in love with Mr. James's nonfiction writing, but his fiction is first rate, white knuckle stuff.Nice post, Nike. And thanks for sharing the titles, as well!-Shawna

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  • sherryle jackson

    I understood the importance of detail and research when writing my soon to be released sequel, SOon After. There is no murder, but it is an arson. No body, but their is a charred edifice and the intent to burn everyone inside. Besides reading two books, one was a crime scene investigation book on arson, I also consulted two lawyer friend and a ATF agent. It was work!I wuse to get unnerved when I read a secular novel that had the sterotypical redemptive scene in church. The pastor would be so cookie cutter with "church speak," spewing from his lips. I imagine that is what cops and true crime lovers feel when you try to watch a few episodes of Law and Order or CSI and try to write crime. I need you to review my novel and see did I get it right? Read many arson stories?Oh by the way try a novel by Pamela Sameuls Young this year, and tell me what you think.

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  • David A. Bedford

    Clearly the author must either do adequate research or avoid writing about what he or she doesn't know anything about. That said, there is in the best crime fiction a tradition that an amateur solves the crime that the police get wrong or are stumped by. It all started with Poe in "Murders in the Rue Morgue", which begins with a long introduction on the value of a classical education. In that story the police have all the clues to solve the crime with, but they do not understand what the clues mean, because they are purely empiricist. So they arrest the wrong person. The crime is solved by a non-policeman trained in logic, a rational discipline. The story is a criticism of those who think science, technology, and engineering will uncover all truth and solve all our problems.The author you mention has not read (or read and not understood) that first detective story, and her work suffers as a result.Good writers go beyond the marketers' demographic "genres" and write for an ideal informed reader. Such readers come in all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds. Please visit my blog 🙂

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Joy, If you want to try Christian edgy crime fiction, I'd suggest the James Scott Bell Ty Buchanan series. Bell's a master of the legal thriller. He also understands cop culture. And the main character, Ty, is very likeable.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Tracy, Absolutely agree with you, there will be that reader who catches mistakes.Why write crime fiction and not get police procedure right? What sense does that make?

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Michelle – Oh yeah Robert Liparulo gets violent and gory, but he's one of my favs.I'm sure guys love Robert's books. My hubby's cousin was looking at my bookshelves (I actually have a roll of yellow crime tape sitting on top of a pile of mystery novels. LOL) and the cousin said, "You read guy stuff."Crime fiction is an addiction. You're either hooked or you're not. It's like some folks are addicted to Stephen King (one reading addiction I don't have).

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Janlyn – Yes, I thnk the Christian writer is writing about hope. The message of Jesus isn't a list of rules, but a message of hope.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Keith – Absolutely if all Christian characters are polished like shining apples, how can someone struggling relate?

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Dan – I'm still working on cop culture. One of the characters in my wip is based upon a real life NYPD undercover cop with the Dominican drug gangs who had just gotten engaged and put in for a transfer out of undercover. It's that dangerous. It was scary, almost like talking to a dead man walking. He made an effort to clean up his language when he spoke to me. On the street he didn't get through a sentence w/o the F-bomb. It was part of gang culture.My undercover guy cleans his speech when speaking to the heroine, but just like the guy I knew tells her as soon as she leaves he's going to turn into an animal. That's going to keep him alive.It's a process. I wrote something and submitted it to my crit group, but it was WRONG. The perimeter guy wouldn't let them on the scene w/o having them sign in and I had to rewrite it.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Brayden – I think there is a Christian market for crime fiction. It's just CBA publishers don't know how to sell these books. Chrisitans are reading secular authors to get their "crime fiction" fix. LOLWhy not join with the effort on Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers to find that audience and nurture that audience? http://edgychristianfictionlovers.ning.com/

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  • Mark Young

    Great points, Nike. I think novels like J. Mark Bertrand's BACK ON MURDER help improve Christian crime fiction. Readers know when you try to sugar-coat it with soft, fuzzy edges. Christian fiction authors can write popular crime fiction and still remain within the boundaries of good taste.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Shawna V – I've written two complete novels, 1/3 of the way through my next. Two of them fall under Christian crime fiction. I was surprised when I got a few "shocked comments" and realized I unbeknowst to me — I fit into the edgy category. I actually described the crime scene.The third book I'd have to say is Christian friendly, rather than Christian themed.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Sherryle – Boy arson novels ain't easy to write if you are getting into the details. I totally agree with you, it also ain't easy to write a good church/sermon scene. I've read some Christian books that it seemed the church scene was obligatory, not organic to the action and pace…almost like author intrusion. Could could hear the author thinking, "I gotta get a church scene in here to get this published in CBA."

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  • Nike Chillemi

    David – The amateur sleuth is definitely a sub-genre of the greater mystery fiction genre. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple is a prime example. The amateur sleuth protag usually possesses some very interesting and unique qualities, great powers of obsevation usually being one of them.I usually think of the crime fiction genre as separate from the mystery genre, though they do overlap. In crime fiction there is the private detiective sub-genre where he PI finds clues the police have missed, or might be hiding if police corruption is involved.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    I luved Bertrand's Back On Murder.I agree Christian fiction authors can write biting crime ficiton, perhaps push the envelope a bit, but not go overboard.

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  • Donna Fletcher Crow

    Nike, have you tried Vince Zandri? MOONLIGHT FALLS or THE REMAINS? Christian noir. Very dark, but clean, and as you say, redemptive.

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  • Faith Imagined

    I have been deprived! I must check out a Christian Crime Fiction. Which one would you suggest for newbies (and hopefully on Kindle)?

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Thx Donna, I'll put them on my to read list…which is getting longer and longer. 🙂

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Faith, if you're going to read your first Christian crim fiction novel, I think I'd go with James Scott Bell's Ty Buchanan series. The first novel in the series is Try Dying. I really enjoyed it. Loved the Ty Buchanan character.

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  • Faith Imagined

    Thanks Nike! I just bought it on the Kindle. It received some great reviews. I can't wait!

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Faith, Let me know how you like it. 🙂

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  • Bonnie Doran

    You've given me some books to read! I really enjoyed Robert Liparulo's Germ but haven't read any crime fiction yet from James Scott Bell. Wanda Dyson also writes crime fiction. Shepherd's Fall is the first in a series starring bounty hunters. And DiAnn Mills has a series with Border Patrol officers.

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  • Lisa Lickel

    I'm catching up after being gone–I'm so glad Shawna mentioned Steven James. I just finished The Bishop and can't wait to get my hot little hands on the others. Excellent, no-holds-barred gruesome, yes; but somehow without resorting to filthiness. The only character professing faith is a side-line character, but the others gave serious thought to matters of faith, and the crime behind the crime was an ethical one.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Lisa – The Bishop sounds like my kindd book. Gruesome can be good in crime fiction. No-holds-barred even better.I'm going to put it on my to read list.

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  • Live in Stereo-News

    And it is not just Christin crime fiction that you are reading, reading ,reading and wondering: "Where is the body?" Some secular books do this also. I needed to read a certain author for a book club: "Murder in the Library." I believe and I was wondering when they would get to the point.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Live-In-Stereo News,Thx for dropping by. I can't stand it when I know it's a murder mystery and I'm on chapter 4 and we haven't gotten to the murder yet.

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  • Bonnie Doran

    LOL, Nike! I once thought I killed a terrorist only he survived. Now what do I do?

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Bonnie,If you thought you killed a terrorist, but he survived, my advice to you is RUN!!!!!!

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