End to the romance as library users turn to crime

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Britain has traditionally been a nation with romantic reading habits, but new figures show that readers are turning to crime.

The gritty forensic novels of American writers such as Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson have gained popularity in British libraries, compared with previous years when romantic fiction dominated the charts. More than half of the most popular titles borrowed in the year to June 2005 were crime tales or thrillers, according to the latest Public Lending Right statistics.

The most borrowed adult fiction book last year was Blow Fly by Patricia Cornwell, the 12th in the series featuring Kay Scarpetta, who is now a private forensic consultant.

The list of the top 10 most borrowed authors still has its love interests, with titles from the likes of Josephine Cox and Joanna Trollope, but figures indicate a major shift towards crime and thrillers compared with five or 10 years ago, when Catherine Cookson ruled supreme.

In both 1999-2000 and 1994-1995, Cookson had written nine out of the top 10 most borrowed books, but she has dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since records began in 1984.

Simon Brett, chairman of the Public Lending Right advisory committee and himself a crime novelist, said: "This year sees crime fiction and thrillers stealing a march on romance. Maybe this is an indication that national tastes are becoming increasingly macabre. It's certainly very good news for those of us who write crime."

Jacqueline Wilson, currently the Children's Laureate, retains her crown as the most borrowed author in UK libraries for the third year running. She was the only British writer to have more than two million loans.

Her success also highlights the continuing importance of libraries to children. When the children's and adults' lists are combined, three other children's writers - Mick Inkpen, Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Roald Dahl - also appear.

Wilson said she was thrilled that so many young people were spending time in libraries. "It's a tribute to the hard work of many people and to the success of initiatives such as the Bookstart scheme, which have done such a great job in encouraging children into libraries form an early age."

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling was the most borrowed children's fiction title.

The Public Lending Right, established in 1979, means writers get paid when their books are borrowed. This year, authors are receiving a record payment of 5.57p per loan.

The tracking system throws up interesting regional variations in borrowing habits. The favourite cookery book for the UK as a whole was Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Dinners but London borrowers preferred Nigella Lawson's Feast: Food that Celebrates Life, and those in Wales and the South-west favoured Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year.

Thrilling stuff

1. Patricia Cornwell, Blow Fly

2. Josephine Cox, Lovers and Liars

3. John Grisham, The Last Juror

4. Joanna Trollope, Brother and Sister

5. P J Tracy, Want to Play?

6. Maeve Binchy, Nights of Rain and Stars

7. James Patterson, Big Bad Wolf

8. James Patterson and Andrew Gross, The Third Degree

9. Ian Rankin, A Question of Blood

10. Kathy Reichs, Monday Mourning