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Jessica Jarlvi on stage and Oyinkan Braithwaite on screen, during the Emirates Airlines Litfest at Le Meridien Hotel in Festival City, Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: Do people read more crime during lockdowns?

Leading authors of psychological thrillers unravelled the appeal of dark tales at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai on Saturday.

Crime novel sales “have gone through the roof” recently, a session at the event heard. In the UK, for example, during the summer 2020 lockdown, there were 120,000 more crime novels sold than the same period in 2019.

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“I think it’s just that when you read crime, you feel better about your own life; that’s my theory,” said Jessica Jarlvi, whose debut novel, ‘When I Wake Up’, was selected ‘Book of the Year’ by Magrudys in 2018, and featured on best-seller lists in the US and Australia.

Jarlvi, a former Montegrappa Prize winner from Sweden who lives in the UAE, was speaking at a panel discussion at the event. Co-panellist Oyinkan Braithwait, author of ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ joined virtually from her home country Nigeria.

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Jessica Jarlvi on stage and Oyinkan Braithwaite on screen, during the Emirates Airlines Litfest at Le Meridien Hotel in Festival City, Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

‘Escapism at its most intense’

Braithwait said crime stories, when mentioned among friends, have the power to spark an immediate conversation. “If you come across a good one [crime novel], you’re like, ‘who did this [crime], where did they do it?’. And crime novels are not too wordy, for the most part — you can just ‘drive’ through them, if that makes sense. I think that’s what it was [causing the sales increase in lockdowns]. It’s readers’ escapism at its most intense.”

Braithwait’s novel My Sister, the Serial Killer is a “critically acclaimed and darkly comic thriller about a woman caught between love for her sister and love for her sister’s next victim”. Crime novels often, perhaps indirectly, help readers psychologically deal with unpleasant themes — such as death, which many people had to face more than ever before because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Braithwait said.

“Death is always there, so I think it depends on how you want to engage with the fact that this ‘thing’ is just around the corner. Sometimes the easiest thing to do, maybe, is to laugh with it, so it doesn’t grip you … If you don’t laugh, you cry, so you have to figure out where you’re going to be.”

‘We try to find humour in life’

Jarlvi, referring to instances of ‘humour’ mixed with crime in her book, said: “For me, it’s about the character, getting inside her head and her life and trying to look at a depressing situation in a humorous way; it just makes it easier. We do that anyway in life, we try to find humour to make light of something difficult.” Her latest psychological thriller, ‘What Did I Do?’ deals with mental health and human trafficking.

The two writers were speaking during a morning session titled ‘Criminality Begins at Home’ at the LitFest Pavilion set up at the InterContinental, Dubai Festival City hotel.