WHAT is the collective noun for a group of crime writers? I suspect it ought to be a murder.

This week I headed over to Bristol for CrimeFest, the annual international crime writing convention of both crime writers and readers alike. While the rest of the south-west soaked up the warmth of the May weather, I was in a darkened hotel room listening to discussions on a less-than-sunny range of topics. Heartwarming sessions over the festival included Motives for Murder, Scaring Your Readers With Death, Running For Your Life and Happy Endings: Do We Need Them?

Cheery stuff. Yet one of the interesting aspects of the festival was just how friendly everyone was. The crime writing community is a surprisingly welcoming, collegiate one: rather than every second person looking like they might murder you given half the chance, the attendees followed the inverse writing rule that the darker the subject, the nicer the author (indeed, one writer I spoke to who had switched from writing chick-lit to crime, described how romantic author get-togethers were much more back-stabbing).

The origins of crime writing as a genre are usually traced back to the Victorian writer Edgar Allen Poe and his story The Murders in the Rue Morgue. From here, it developed through the uber-minds of Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot to the more down-to-earth detectives of police procedurals, solving mysteries through dogged determination and hard work. More recently, heroes have changed again – characters like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo heralding a new generation of flawed, more complex lead characters. Today, the psychological thriller holds centre stage – books that are usually spotted by often having the word ‘girl’ in the title.

So why does crime fiction continue to be so popular? One theory is that such books have a cathartic element, with readers vicariously living out their fears. Certainly, there is a curious statistic that even though crime in the UK is in long-term decline (falling by 40 per cent since 1984), the fear of crime has continued to grow over the same period.

Here in Salisbury, we might not have our own Morse, Rebus or Wallander to protect our city, but we are not short of our own crime writing practitioners: in the past couple of months alone, there have been excellent new books by Julia North (the gripping, psychological thriller Hear Me) and Richard Parker (the darkly engrossing Be My Killer). But perhaps the most influential crime writer to have graced the city is John Creasey, who founded the Crime Writers’ Association in 1953 and wrote an astonishing 600 novels before his death in 1973. All which goes to show that while crime doesn’t pay, writing about crime certainly does.