Not for the first time, however, the table may make potentially disconcerting reading for campaigners for Britain’s beleaguered libraries. For it suggests that, like George Orwell’s typical Englishman after Sunday lunch (in “Decline of the English Murder”), their members are predominantly looking for tales of unnatural death. The crime novels in which they find it tend to be American, urban, hectic, contemporary and page-turning, as epitomised by Child, David Baldacci, Karin Slaughter, and Patterson’s various series centred on cops and attorneys – so if this is escapism, it’s a very peculiar and psychologically interesting form of it, craving the antithesis of the less complicated, less violent English-provincial past that library members evidently longed for when Catherine Cookson ruled the PLR rankings in the late 80s and 90s.
Wordier US crime writers noticeably do less well, while non-American practitioners of the genre are entitled to feel aggrieved: only one foreign-language title (by Jo Nesbø, at 53) makes the top 100, and although UK authors besides the US-based Child are represented – Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Peter Robinson and Martina Cole among them – they’re not challenging for the top places. Fans will be struck by the scarcity in the chart of British women crime writers, but more surprising is the absence of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, recently revealed by the Bookseller to have been the UK’s No 1 in 2013 across formats (Alex Ferguson sold more printed books, but Flynn’s ebook sales made it the overall winner).