My second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust, is under production in New York right now. It will launch in April 2013. I’m playing around with an idea for a very different kind of series before I have to start my third Skeet book. This new series would not be first-person and would have two protagonists, a man and a woman who were teenage sweethearts with a disastrous ending, involved years later in a murder investigation with high stakes for both of them. The unresolved feelings from their earlier relationship, their reluctant attraction for each other as adults and the sexual tension it causes, their concerns about blame, trust, and commitment—all of these standard romance-novel elements will play a role in this series, but the primary focus of the series (and of these elements) is still solving the mystery and preventing great harm to people they care about.
This is a far cry from the Skeet Bannion series. In those books, there are men who are interested in starting or resuming a romantic/sexual relationship with Skeet, but she’s too busy taking care of a kid, an ailing father, friends in danger, and solving cases—and too afraid of commitment—to bother. I suspect it’s Skeet’s problems with intimacy and commitment that draw men after her.
All this has me thinking about romance in mysteries and thrillers. I have strong feelings about the place of romance in these books and movies. I can enjoy sexual tension and romantic relationships in books as much as anyone—but mysteries and thrillers are about high-stakes quests to stop murderers and/or to save the city/country/word from destruction. I have been known to scream at the screen when a hero has only seconds to prevent death or destruction with no assurance that those few seconds are enough—and he or she takes much of that precious time to engage in a passionate clinch with the love interest. After the earth is saved, after the murderer is arrested, or earlier in the story when it’s not an interruption of a vital action, romance is fine, but I don’t want it to interfere with the high-stakes quest the hero is on.
Julia Spencer-Fleming is someone who has used romance well in a mystery series. The romance progressed over the course of seven books, and it was always tied into the mystery as a subplot. Margaret Maron also followed that pattern in her Debra Knott books, as did J.A. Jance and Susan Wittig Albert. These are just the first names that come to mind, along with, of course, Deborah Crombie’s partnered British police officers, who finally marry after many books and must come unpartnered at work because of that.
I hope to use these authors and others as guides when I write this series of books with such a strong romantic subplot. Passion, sexual tension, romance are all allowed, as long as the mystery quest takes top precedence.
What are your thoughts about romance in crime fiction? Do you like it or hate it? And who are authors that you think do a good job at mixing the two?