Skip to Main Content


July 19, 2016

  • Sherlock Holmes was voted the favourite character from classic crime novels in UK survey
  • They’re not avid readers of crime, but almost half of 25-34 year olds would like to write their own novel
  • Artificial intelligence emerged as the most popular new theme readers would like to see explored in crime novels

Rakuten Kobo, a leading innovator in the digital reading space, joins WHSmith as a sponsor of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival taking place this week. In celebration of all things crime, Kobo is releasing insights from an independent survey of the British public and its own user database, which reveals the insights about crime readers and predicts where crime writing may head in the future.

Move over Miss Marple and watch out Watson, because when it comes to the general public’s favourite character from crime novels, it seems one quirky man has definitely won over the hearts of the British public. He may be more than 100 years old, but when asked to choose their favourite character from classic crime novels from seven well-known and well-loved characters, Sherlock Holmes was voted the favourite by every age, gender and location, garnering almost a third of the entire vote! However, modern day characters failed to beat the classics, when asked who their favourite character was from modern day crime novels, a striking 59% said they didn’t have one. Robert Langdon, from The Da Vinci Code, did come out as the most popular character, but with just 9% of the vote. The notorious Amy Dunne, from the thriller/crime cult hit Gone Girl came out as the least favourite character in modern crime novels, with less than 1% of the vote.

Simon Brett, former president and active member of The Detection Club, says: “This data from Kobo proves that Sherlock Holmes is still the definitive sleuth. Conan Doyle got so much right when he created the character and Holmes casts a long shadow over all subsequent crime fiction. It is his observation of detail which makes his method of detection so compelling. The information is there in plain sight, and we the readers – not to mention the pedestrian Dr. Watson – should be able to recognize and connect the clues. But often we fail, with the result that the brilliant Holmes has to provide the solution for us. And, of course, the profile of Sherlock Homes has been greatly increased by the excellent updated television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.”

Although modern day crime readers may still prefer characters from the classics, this hasn’t abated their voracious appetite for a thrilling crime novel. Kobo couldn’t resist trying to crack the case of which of the shortlisted books would win the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the year, but the clues are somewhat puzzling. Based on Kobo readers’ preferences, Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith would be a sure-fire win as it the bestselling book on the crime festival shortlist this year. But, Tell No Tales by Eva Dolan is another contender as it is the most completed book on the shortlist with an impressive 91% of those who opened the book getting all the way to the end. Then again, Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty seemed to be the most compelling to readers, with it boasting the longest average time of reading sessions (50 minutes), and the smallest number of average reading sessions taken to complete the book (18) – meaning, those who picked it up didn’t want to put it down.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the readers themselves, it seems women are more drawn to a life of crime than men. A staggering three quarters of all crime readers on Kobo’s platform are women, whilst 45% are over the age of 55.

Emma Kenny, media psychologist says: “Human beings are naturally inquisitive and whilst on the whole we would never wish to harm one another, our interest in the darker side of human nature is understandable. The voyeurism we are offered when reading crime novels is thrilling and the adrenalin rush we experience during those 'on the edge of our seat' moments is addictive on a physiological level. Great crime thrillers allow us to connect with certain characters and we are introduced to a cacophony of emotions that are so compelling due to the fact that they evoke feelings that are not common to experience. Whilst the average human being is empathic, compassionate and altruistic, experiencing the polarity of such traits through another's words offers excitement.”

When it comes to crime readers’ favourite reads, Katia Lief’s One Cold Night comes out on top as the number one best-selling crime novel of all time on the entire of Kobo’s platform in the UK. One Cold Night also topped the bestsellers list for self-published titles. Mark Sennen’s Tell Tale: A DI Charlotte Savage Novel tops the best read, with 100% of those who opened the book getting right to the end! The top British crime author of all time, with the most sales across all their books is Lee Child, followed by James Patterson in second place. (Please find all top 10 lists on the next page.)

Whilst older women may make up the largest demographic of crime readers on the Kobo platform, when asked what genre they would primarily choose to write in when penning their own novel, it seems that the younger generation are the ones who will drive the genre forward with 43% of 25-34 year olds wanting to become authors of their own crime novels. Interestingly, although those over 55 make up a large percentage of crime readers, they were the age group least inclined to add to the genre they love, with 72% saying they would not like to write their own novel.

Isobel Akenhead, bookseller for Kobo UK says: “Self-publishing is an ever-growing, increasingly professional sphere, where new authors are successfully launching themselves every day. Self-published books account for more than 15% of our UK eBook unit sales, and indeed some of our biggest bestsellers have come from the Kobo Writing Life platform. We don’t see this slowing down any time in the near future.”

When asked what themes they’d like to see addressed in crime novels, artificial intelligence was the single most popular with (34%) closely followed by virtual reality (25%). Asked what stories based on contemporary life they’d like to see explored, the real-life events of Hatton Garden Heist came out on top with 34% of the vote.

Simon Brett, former president and active member of The Detection Club, says: “I have heard it said that, if you want to know the preoccupations of a particular period of the last century, you should read the contemporary crime fiction. The kind of crimes featured in those books reflect the anxieties of the time. So international terrorism – the horror of the atrocity which can strike anyone at any moment – will continue to feature in crime novels of the next five years. So will domestic violence – particularly against women – because that is a silent crime whose scale is only gradually becoming realized. And in a time when almost all of us have been close to having our online banking details accessed by fraudsters – if we haven’t actually been victims - there’s going to be a lot of crime fiction written about the perils of the internet, as confirmed by the Kobo independent research.”

While the majority of crime readers are not within the millennial generation, the future of crime writing seems to be in their hands. With 25-34 year olds intending to lead the way when it comes to writing their own crime novels, and Kobo predicting a rise in the amount of self-published titles, how and what type of crime books we consume seems set to change. Although characters from the classics still hold the largest place in our hearts, with the younger generation adding new themes such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, there is always hope that a new ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is just around the corner.

Kobo’s Top 10 Bestselling Crime Novels from the past five years

  1. One Cold Night – by Katia Lief
  2. The Husband's Secret - by Liane Moriarty
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – by Stieg Larsson
  4. Gone Again - by Doug Johnstone
  5. The Cuckoo's Calling – by Robert Galbraith
  6. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest – by Stieg Larsson
  7. The Girl Who Played With Fire – by Stieg Larsson
  8. The Detective's Daughter – by Lesley Thomson
  9. Never Tell – by Alafair Burke
  10. Taken – by Jacqui Rose

Top 10 bestselling crime novels of all time from Kobo in the UK

  1. One Cold Night - Katia Lief
  2. The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
  4. Gone Again - Doug Johnstone
  5. The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith
  6. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest - Stieg Larsson
  7. The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
  8. The Detective's Daughter - Lesley Thomson
  9. Never Tell - Alafair Burke
  10. Taken - Jacqui Rose

Top 10 best read crime books – all with 100% completion rates

  1. Tell Tale: A DI Charlotte Savage Novel - Mark Sennen
  2. SHETLAND: Dead Water - Ann Cleeves
  3. A Dying Fall - Elly Griffiths
  4. In A Dry Season - Peter Robinson
  5. Gone Tomorrow - Lee Child
  6. Catch Me (Detective D.D. Warren 6) - Lisa Gardner
  7. Death Trip - Lee Weeks
  8. Friends of the Dusk - Phil Rickman
  9. The Hard Way - Lee Child
  10. The Affair - Lee Child

Top 10 bestselling self-published crime books

  1. One Cold Night - Katia Lief
  2. Silent Scream - Angela Marsons
  3. Waterbury: a crime novel - Katia Lief
  4. Evil Games - Angela Marsons
  5. Lost Girls - Angela Marsons
  6. The Girl in the Ice - Robert Bryndza
  7. Here She Lies - Katia Lief
  8. Seven Minutes to Noon - Katia Lief
  9. Gingerbread Man - Maggie Shayne
  10. Rotten to the Core - Casey Kelleher

Independent survey of the British Public by Census Wide with 2,000 respondents. Internal data from a selection of 14,000 users on the Kobo platform

Follow us at @kobobooks on Instagram

"I can adjust the light settings and read throughout the night without waking a soul."👌 What's your favourite Kobo feature? #thekobolife 2019 goals: dine alone at least once, keep plants alive, start an audiobook trial. We are 2 for 3 (sorry plants) 🌱 #thekobolife Have you ever seen yourself reflected in a book? What did you learn? #thekobolife

If you would like to be the first to know about bookish blogs, please subscribe. We promise to provided only relevant articles.