16 December 2016

Too Sexy?

by O'Neil De Noux

How much sex (if any) should be in a crime fiction novel? I don't know the answer.

I feel Dasheill Hammett and Raymond Chandler would have written sex scenes if it had been acceptable in those days. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. I've been wrong before.

I think THE MALTESE FALCON called for Sam and Brigid in bed, called for a closer, more physical relationship, more loving relationship, which made it harder for Sam to turn her in. Maybe it would have cracked his hard facade or scratched it at least. Of course, I could be crazy. Why tinker with an almost perfect novel?


I would have liked to know exactly what was in those photo taken of Carmen Sternwood in THE BIG SLEEP. It's not easy being half-French and half-Italian with all these hormones.


When I wrote my first novel GRIM REAPER in 1986, I wrote it as true and violent and as hyper-realistic as I could and when LaStanza had sex, I didn't fade to black. I also used the harsh language we used when I was a homicide detective - where cursing was commonplace. Still is in police stations and especially detective bureaus everywhere. My old partner travels a lot and visits detectives all over and says Russian police and Italian police and others curse all the time and deal with 'scumbags' just like we do.

Back to sex. I seem to have sex scenes in most of my books. Cops and private eyes like sex. Not as an after-thought but as a main attraction a lot of the time. After all, there are 7.5 billion people on the planet and I've heard of only one immaculate conception. So people are doing it. A lot. But I understand reading about sex makes some people uncomfortable.

Population 7.5 billon, one immaculate conception

A reader once emailed me that sexs scenes in my books were unnecessary since everyone knows how to make love. I asked if the reader did it as well as my character did it in the book. Did the reader knock pictures off the wall and lamps off the end table? No response.

Many of the readers who email me mention the sex in the books with positive comments, some like it a lot. Yet, a recent email from another reader said the 713 word sex scene near the climax of HOLD ME, BABE (did I just throw a climax in?) ruined the best book that reader has read all year. Ruined?

 Sexy crime novels with sexy covers

So do we show the reader the moves, the dialogue, the sex act or fade to back? I like a good sex scene, just like I like good dialogue, a good shootout and well, just about anything good in a crime novel. So I'll probably continue to describe the sex in my books. We working mystery writers take our genre where we want to take it.

How do y'all feel about this?



  1. I'm a big fan of sex. Have been since before I quite knew what it was. As a member in good standing of the Baby Boomer generation I find myself in something of a minority, at least in public. The subsequent generations seem to be increasingly tolerant of sex and violence in fiction. I have always felt that the genres of PI, Noir, and police procedurals benefit from a dose of life as she is lived. Now, if we can just get those Xs, Ys, and Millennials to read more . . .

  2. Thoughtful question, O'Neil.

    I think it depends on each particular book. My first self-pubbed novel, The Whammer Jammers, was rejected by an agent specifically because of a graphic rape scene 1/3 through. The intern was so upset she didn't recognize it as a major plot point. When the book was published, I got a review that mentioned that same scene as disturbing...but gave the book five stars on Amazon.

    Three of my first four books have graphic sex scenes that I felt were important to both the plot and character development, but I think only two of the succeeding seven novels include them. If they're there, they matter to the story.

    The other novels have sex, but I do fade to black while it happens. The readers certainly know what's happening, though. I'm working on the third draft of another novel now, and one of the issues I'm struggling with is...you guessed it. I think the sex scene has to be more explicit.

    Good sex scenes are hard to write, too, almost as hard as humor. There's a fine line, and if you stay on one side of it, you sound tame. If you go too far, it's just porn. I think the action has to matter to the characters and will change them in some way. If you include some emotional content, it's usually for the best.

  3. O'Neil questions how many and how explicit sex scenes should be in crime fiction. I've often been faced with the flip side of this concern. How much crime fiction can I work into stories intended for erotica publications?

    My first crime fiction short story was published in Gentleman's Companion (and will be reprinted next year in an Ed Gorman-edited anthology!), a men's magazine that featured pictures of naked women and included stories in which sexual activity played a significant role. Many writers of my generation and the generations immediately preceding mine wrote for these publications and their paperback equivalents. (In fact, several of Lawrence Block's novels from those days are being reprinted, and the anthology mentioned in the previous aside collects stories like these from the men's magazines of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.)

    So, the challenge back then was figuring out how to write a good piece of crime fiction (or a good story of any genre) knowing that at least one graphic sex scene had to be included. Some of the resulting stories have sex that's integral, but others...let's just say that closing the bedroom door would not diminish the stories in any way.

    There are fewer men's magazines today and those that remain seem less interested in publishing good fiction. Even so, the opportunity to mix sex and crime continues in paperback anthologies. In fact, O'Neil and I both contributed to Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin (Mysterious Press, Max Allan Collins and Jeff Gelb, editors). (My story was reprinted in Best New Erotica 4 (Carroll & Graf; Maxim Jakubowski, editor), which included two of O'Neil's stories!) And I've placed crime fiction in several other erotica anthologies, with and without O'Neil sharing space in the same books.

    So, the upshot may be that sometimes the story determines the level of sexual content and sometimes the market determines the level of sexual content. Either way, it's one facet of writing fiction that every writer addresses in some form.

  4. Well, I've always thought that sex was highly underrated, so I'm prejudiced. BTW, I always knew that when Sam kissed Brigid in The Maltese Falcon, and then got up and searched her clothing, they'd had sex. But a little more... oomph... would have been nice. I have no problem with sex scenes when they work with the plot, and/or enhance/explain characters and relationships. Or if that's the whole purpose of the book, and I know it before getting involved. Actually, the best sex scenes I've ever read were in Cecelia Holland's historical novels. There's a late-night sex scene between the Mongol Psin and his concubine in "Until the Sun Falls" explains their relationship better than any dialog could.

  5. The mystery genre definitely seems to tilt toward less sex, more violence. Personally, I think the ratio could and should be greater than 0/100, because the world is already a violent-enough place, but I'm a romantic at heart. Glad to hear other Sleuths feel the same way!


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