When my debut novel Reviver was released, I did some signings in bookshops around the country. At each of them, staff asked me the same question: which section should they put the book in? Crime? Horror? It was a reasonable question. The basic premise of Reviver, and its sequel Lost Souls, is that – for reasons unknown – there are people (called Revivers) who can bring the recently dead back, briefly, to say their goodbyes or give evidence on how they died. The latter is very handy for the police, of course, and it’s the forensic use of revivers that takes centre stage. Crime and horror, right from the word go.
Before I started writing Reviver, my reading tastes were horror first, SF second. After that, well… let’s just say that my crime reading had been pretty limited. It was something I had to address, so I began to read as much crime fiction as I could. Most of what I read depended on luck, as I’d just go into the library and grab something that caught my eye.
It didn’t go that well. Crime, I began to think, was not really my thing. Some of it was great, sure. But much of it was terrible. Even critically lauded novels were often – for me – nothing special.
Then a little voice in my head spoke up: not so fast, it said. The same was true of horror. The same was true of SF. Sure, I would give them a little extra leeway because they were my thing, but in the end it was the same.
That was when the revelation hit. I realised that genre had far less impact on what I loved than I’d ever appreciated. Writing style, pace, originality, characters: whatever your preferences are, if a book hits the sweet spot for you then I suspect genre won’t be an issue. Problem is, it might just mean you never actually read it, because you don’t think it’s your kind of thing.
It’s easy to see how it happens. When I first fell in love with reading, I would find a book I loved and would read everything by that author – which almost invariably meant within the same genre. Once I’d run out, that genre would be the natural place to start looking for something new, and if I read something I didn’t like, I would just try again. Yet if the same thing happened with a rare foray into an untried genre, I’d dismiss the entire area as not for me.
Nowadays, I’m a regular crime reader. I have to confess, though: I’m still wary of trying something different. What I need is an entirely new genre, tailor-made just for me: “books I’ll love”. There’s no section for that, not yet. The auto-generated recommendations of online stores are usually no better than random, but I hope it won’t be more than a few years before they give way to systems that get it right most of the time.
And when that happens, don’t expect to find me without my nose in a book. I’ll have a lot to catch up on.
Lost Souls by Seth Patrick, Pan Macmillan, £7.99