Put a Dead Body in It

I recently spent a long weekend binge-watching horror movies/series. After several hours of corpses, missing people, and mysterious figures hiding in dark corners, it hit me that, of the shows I watched, only the haunted house story felt like horror (and even that had a few whodunnit moments). The others felt more like crime fiction. People were being murdered, perhaps more gruesomely/inventively than in straight-up crime fiction, and someone else had to figure out the who and why before the whole town ended up dead.

Prior to the horror movie marathon, I went on a trip and met someone who announced that they preferred “English literary novels” over crime fiction. I replied, “put a dead body in it and it’s crime fiction.” This person later conceded that Wuthering Heights was a crime novel. I argue Crime and Punishment (crime right there in the name), Hamlet, Les Miserables, and half of what Dickens wrote fall under the crime fiction umbrella. Jane Eyre stopped pretending to be lit-tra-chure and became The Wife Upstairs

These revelations prompted me to ask my fellow Missdemeanors:

What books, short stories, films, TV series, etc., that aren’t traditionally thought of as crime fiction also work as crime fiction? Songs count, too. “Riders on the Storm” is more serial killer than Dexter.


“Every Breath You Take” by The Police described by one friend of mine as “the stalker song.”

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Romance? I think not.

Elizabeth (1998) with Cate Blanchett. Spies, plots, prisons, executions. Dudley is such a stooge. PS, If the genealogy stuff is to be believed, he was my third cousin, 14 times removed.


Yes—I remember that song. Creepy.


Even the premise for Schitt’s Creek is based on a crime. The accountant defrauded the Rose family when he pocketed their money and failed to pay their taxes, which is how they ended up Schitt’s Creek (couldn’t resist, sorry).


This one made me think, Alexia.

Jodi Taylor’s very funny historical time-travel series (St. Mary’s Institute) has lots of crimes and criminals in them, but they’re definitely not categorized as mysteries. Thinking of English classics (which I do a lot), I would put the following in the same category:

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

In terms of songs from the past, how about “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio and “El Paso” by Marty Robbins? And of course “Mack the Knife” with Bobby Darin?

And then all those “teen tragedy” songs (“she went back to get my high school ring”)?


“Mack the Knife” is one of my favorite songs. I used to have the words memorized. Also the words to that teen tragedy song about the car accident, the one that Pearl Jam covered.


Let’s go with:

Harry Potter: the whole series is based on the premise of Voldemort killing Harry’s parents and trying to kill him. Then there’s a lot of killing that happens over the course of seven books and eight movies. There’s a prison and escapes from the prison, and a fair amount of stealing.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: not considered a crime novel, but McMurphy is a criminal who thinks a stint in a mental hospital will be easier than prison. Aside from whatever illegal shenanigans the residents get up to, there is Nurse Ratched, who is pretty clearly criminal in intent herself.

Every song by the Misfits: “Last Caress” is from the POV of a murderer and rapist who is waiting for death, “Astro Zombies” is from the POV of someone who sends astro zombies to kill the entire human race, “Brains” is from the POV of zombies who are bored with eating only brains and would like a change of pace sometime. “London Dungeon” is about being in… a
London dungeon. On and on, all set to a happy, foot-stomping beat.


Someone should edit a crime fiction anthology of stories based on Misfits songs. The stories would practically write themselves. And Nurse Ratched got her own limited series, Ratched, which I enjoyed.


It’s actually hard to think of a book that does not involve death or crime in some way. Bridgerton involves murder and crime and a lot of really good-looking people. The Bible has a lot of murder and crime. I like to underline good mystery titles when I’m reading through the Bible (and inspirational passages, as well.) Of Mice and Men involves a murder. Lonesome Dove. Brothers Karamazov. Oliver Twist.


The Bible contains lots of great stories, many of which have inspired non-religious works. The story of Cain and Abel may be the first murder mystery. And it inspired Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The nativity inspired crime novelist P.D. James’ The Children of Men.

Your Turn

Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. What are some books, movies, or songs that are actually undercover crime fiction?


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