Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why Add Romance to Mystery?

by Jackie King

Romance in mysteries seems to be anathema to some readers and writers, and I have no problem with that. Everyone should read and/or write any type of book they like. I, myself, enjoy some of these mystery novels from time to time. However, for me, a touch of romantic love adds that special human touch.

Even hard-edged thrillers such as the remarkable Val McDermid writes, usually have an affair of the heart touching the story. I just finished Cross and Burn, and the angst Tony Hill endured while thinking of Carol Jordan, added much tension to this mystery.
Including a touch of romance is something I do in my own B&B cozy mystery series featuring Grace Cassidy. After publishing the second in the series I got remarks from readers who were annoyed that I left the relationship between Grace and Sam Harper, hanging in the wind. They were right. If I had it to do over, I’d add one last chapter that would give readers a bit of satisfaction.
 The Corpse Who Walked in the Door

In the third novel of the series, The Corpse and the Geezer Brigade, their romance picks up again, and I got better reviews. (I’m a late bloomer and probably a slow learner—but I do try to improve my writing skills in each book.)

In her autobiography, Agatha Christie mentioned that if she added a bit of romance to her novels, the books to sold more copies. Now I think that most mystery fans will agree that writing romance wasn’t the great Dame Agatha’s strong suit. Her surprising plot twists were what caused her books to fly off the shelves. But the famous lady of mystery was an astute business woman; therefore most of her stories have some kind of love interest.


Writers have now become adroit at blending a love story with pure mystery. In Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mysteries, our heroine always seems to have bad luck with men. But when Grafton penned G Is for Gumshoe and added an anti-hero type guy named Robert Deitz, the book sizzled for a few pages.

Historical mysteries also feature love. One of my favorite authors, Anne Perry, uses two different hero types. William Monk, brilliant and ambitious, fancies helpless, very ladylike women. Our protagonist, Hester Latterly, who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, is a prototype of the early feminist. When these two characters are pierced by Cupid’s arrows, the excitement mounts.

Another of Perry’s popular series features Thomas Pitt, a poorly paid policeman who weds Charlotte Ellison, the daughter of a well-to-do family. The union is definitely a no-no in the class-conscious Victorian setting. The marriage and the complications that arise from it, make Perry’s plots deep and believable.
Even hardboiled mysteries feature strong love stories. The Elvis Cole series, written by the grand master Robert Crais, is a perfect example. Elvis’ love match with Lucy Chenier is enough to melt your teeth. And even though the two have parted for the safety of Lucy’s young son, her memory still lingers with Elvis and adds an extra dimension to Crais’ books.
Joe Pike, that hour-and-a-half hardboiled egg, and my personal favorite hero (also created by Crais) is not immune to love. When he falls, he falls hard.

This list could go on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned the popular romantic suspense novels. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that adding romance to mystery just makes the story that much richer and more fulfilling.

If you have a favorite mystery that also features romance, I’d like to know about it. I will also love any comment you care to make, favorable or not.


Bill Kirton said...

I agree, Jackie. Despite their apparent poles-apart status, crime and romance seem a relatively natural fit (as do crime and comedy, of course). I've never considered myself a romance writer but my main detective has a very happy, loving marriage. When I wrote my historical crime, The Figurehead, I had no intention of romance being a part of it but the characters decided otherwise. So much so that my editor warned me that it was as much a romance as a crime story. But the characters were right and so strong did their relationship become that readers have written insisting I write a sequel, mainly to find out how the relationship progresses (and presumably, is consummated). I'm 70,000 words into it and I still don't know.

Jackie King said...

Loved your comment, Bill. We create characters who then overpower our plans, and march to their own drummer. And what fun it is...