Getting the Mix of Romance and Suspense Just Right

They got Romance in my Suspense! Or is it Suspense in my Romance? 

With one foot in romance and the other in suspense, romantic suspense is a strange beast.  And for the reader who knows how much romance they want in their suspense, and conversely how much suspense they want in their romance, it can be difficult to tell from the label on the spine what to expect from a new author. If only there were an FDA label on the back listing the percentages of romance and suspense in each book. 

Since it doesn’t look like the FDA will start checking the percentages any time soon, we readers are forced to rely on each other to learn which books to try and which to avoid. To that end, I’ve performed my own Goldilocks routine and found three bears romantic suspense authors whose titles are “just right” at 50% romance / 50% suspense.

Die for Me by Karen Rose
Die for Me by Karen Rose
1. Karen Rose

I read my first Karen Rose novel, Die for Me, because it was nominated for the RITA in 2008 for Best Romantic Suspense. She didn’t win that year, but not because Die for Me wasn’t a fantastic example of romantic suspense at its best. (She won this year for Silent Scream.) Indeed, almost all of her novels boast a near perfect ratio of romance to suspense, with neither suffering in service to the other. This means that the characters are complex and their conflicts with one another are believable and real. Vito Ciccotelli, the hero of Die for Me, might be a big, bad, homicide detective, but that doesn’t help when he’s dealing with his large Italian family. And his family is as warm and loving as archeologist Sophie Johannsen’a is complicated and fraught. That they manage to work through their budding romance while searching for a diabolical villain would be hard to believe, if Rose weren’t so wonderful at convincing her readers that these two people were meant to meet and fall in love while a serial killer hovers in the background. Again and again, in book after book, Karen Rose satisfies my need for a complex mystery plot while also giving me the happily ever after I’ve come to rely on. For fans of dark suspense blended with character driven romance.

Face of Danger by Roxanne St. Claire
Face of Danger by Roxanne St. Claire
2. Roxanne St. Claire

Another romantic suspense author who is deft at creating stories that maintain the delicate balance between romance and suspense is Roxanne St. Claire. Whether they’re searching for human traffickers or hunting down international terrorists, St. Claire’s heroes and heroines never take a back seat to the suspense plot they’re working to unravel. Indeed, St. Claire seems to be at her best when she’s pushing the boundaries of romance with her suspense plots, and vice versa. In this spring’s Face of Danger, which pairs up budding P.I. Vivi Angelino with FBI agent Colt Lang, St. Claire manages to weave a complex mystery involving human trafficking, mistaken identity and Hollywood glamour, without once leaving the romance plot by the wayside. Of course, it helps that the investigation requires Vivi and Colt to hole up in a beach estate on Martha’s Vineyard, but the suspense plot is helped by this rather than hindered. Though it looks as if she’ll be taking a break from romantic suspense for a time to concentrate on contemporary, single-title romance, Roxanne St. Claire is easily one of the most talented romantic suspense authors writing today. And she owes much of her success to the way she balances romance and suspense. For fans of suspense mixed with character-driven romance.

Deadly Fear by Cynthia Eden
Deadly Fear by Cynthia Eden
3. Cynthia Eden

Though new to the scene, Cynthia Eden in no stranger to romantic suspense. Her Midnight series, while paranormal, is arguably also romantic suspense, focusing as it does on officers in the Atlanta PD. With the publication last year of Deadly Fear, she entered the romantic suspense fray in earnest. Focusing on the Serials Services Division of the FBI, a fictional branch that tracks serial crimes, the Deadly trilogy seamlessly blends hot romance with edge of your seat suspense. Deadly Fear pits agents Luke Dante and Monica Davenport against a sick puppy of a villain who specializes in torturing his victims with their greatest fears before he kills them. The chemistry between Luke and Monica is scorching, but in no way does it threaten their abilities to work the case. The darkness of the crimes they investigate only seems to make the romance between these two sweeter, which in turn means that the ratio of romance to suspense is, in the words of Goldilocks “just right.” For fans of dark suspense and sexy, explicit romance.

So, gentle Goldilocksian reader, who makes your “just right” list? What romantic suspense authors do you rely on to give you the perfect mixture of romance with suspense? Inquiring minds want to know!


Manda Collins has been reading mysteries since her first Nancy Drew at the age of six. An academic librarian by day, by night she writes historical romance blended with mystery for St. Martin’s Press. Her first book, How to Dance with a Duke, is scheduled for release in February, 2012. To learn more, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter @MandaCollins.


  1. ev

    I’d add Julia Spencer-Flemings series to that. Actually has less than 50% romance, at least in the first few books, but the heat is there. It just adds to the wonderful stories.

    I love Karen and Roxie’s books. I’ll have to add Cyntihia to my list now too.

    Sometimes I run as far from my romance books as I can get and other times I don’t mind a good mix of the two. It’s always nice to have a list to fall back on when I need something or someone new to read.

  2. Laura K. Curtis

    Karen Rose and Roxanne St. Claire are superb. I haven’t read Cynthia because paranormal isn’t my thing. I also recommend Lisa Jackson–plenty of thrills and chills and an emotionally satisfying romance. For military or paramilitary romantic suspense, I like Suz Brockmann and Cindy Gerard.

    • Monica Andhavaram

      Hello, Laura Cynthia’s Deadly fear isn’t paranormal. To be honest its one of the magical feminist books I’ve ever read. I advice you to go for it. Its worth it

  3. Manda Collins

    Ev, I am sorry to say I haven’t read Julia Spencer-Fleming yet, though she has been recommended by people whose opinions I respect. She’s definitely in my TBR pile, though.

    Laura, Cynthia’s latest from Grand Central are straight romantic suspense without any paranormal elements. And I love Brockmann and Gerard too. I need to catch up with Cindy Gerard though. I glommed her backlist about a year ago and overdosed. I think enough time has passed now.

    For military heroes I also love Jo Ann Ross’s High Risk series. She’s switched them away from suspense now though:(

  4. pjpuppymom

    You’ll get my whole-hearted agreement on both Karen Rose and Roxanne St. Claire. St. Claire is my go-to author for the perfect combination of romance and suspense. I have yet to be disappointed in anything she’s published.

    I discovered Christina Dodd through her historicals but fell in love with her romantic suspense side when she wrote her Lost Texas series and Fortune Hunter series. Her August release, SECRETS OF BELLA TERRA, kicks off her new Scarlet Deception series and, once again, gives me just the right blend of romance and suspense that I’ve come to expect from this author.

    Susan Crandall is another author I enjoy who has a good blend of suspense and romance though her books weigh a bit more heavily on the suspense side.

  5. Manda Collins

    Hey, P.J.! I’m a Susan Crandall fan too. I think my favorite is SEEING RED. She hasn’t had anything out in a while though.

    I haven’t tried Christina Dodd’s RS books yet. Just her historicals. Though I must say that SECRETS OF BELLA TERRA looks good.

    And of course I know you’re a Roxanne St. Claire fan:) Though I didn’t know you liked Karen Rose, too. We have similar taste, I think.

  6. Cynthia Eden

    Hi, Manda! Thanks so much for including me on your list. 🙂 I also very much enjoy both Karen & Roxanne’s books–they can sure craft some great romantic suspense tales. I also enjoy Linda Howard’s tales, too. Her Dream Man remains one of my favorite romantic suspense novels (though technically that one is paranormal romantic suspense).

    Thank you for a fabulous post!

  7. Janga

    I don’t read a lot of romantic suspense, but I’m a big fan of Roxanne St. Claire’s books. I follow Christina Dodd whatever she writes, and I wish Susan Crandall wrote more. I never miss a Brenda Novak book either, and Dee Davis has written some of my fave RS books. I’ve only read one Laura Griffin book (on your recommendation), but I liked it a lot and will definitely be reading more. Of course, Nora Roberts is on my list, and I still go back and reread some of my Mary Stewart books from time to time.

  8. Manda Collins

    You’re welcome, Cynthia! Thank you for writing such compelling reads. Linda Howard is definitely good at mixing the romance and the suspense. Though my fave is OPEN SEASON since the heroine is a librarian:) I need to do a reread of DREAM MAN since it’s been a long time. Thanks for stopping by!

    Janga, I wish Susan Crandall wrote more too. I think I saw on Twitter this morning that her daughter is getting married soon so that might explain some of the current delay. (And yes, I do feel stalkerly for knowing that. Though Twitter is technically a public space.)

    Thanks for the reminder about Brenda Novak. I need to hunt down her new one. And I’m so glad you tried and liked Laura Griffin! I’m loving her current series and can’t wait for SNAPPED to come out. And just to show it goes both ways, I read my first Nora, ANGELS FALL, at your recommendation a few years ago and now she’s a must read. So, thank you!

  9. Roxanne St. Claire

    Hi Manda – so glad I found this blog and thank you VERY much for including me on that short list. I’m honored! I get asked about the “percentage” of romance v. suspense all the time from budding romantic suspense authors, and I usually tell them to write the kind of book you like to read. For me, I lean a little more to the passion than the procedure, so you’ll see that reflected in my stories. Cynthia is definitely a talent to watch in this genre, and Karen is flat out a superstar. I also can’t say enough about Cindy Gerard’s amazing books, as well as Laura Griffin, both ladies I count as good friends and amazing writers.

    It’s true I’m taking a break from romantic suspense, but I doubt I’m done with it forever. I still have a few characters waiting in the wings and I would miss the thrill I get from taking those folks on a journey that is a threat to their hearts AND their lives. But with 4 release and a few novellas in 2012, and 3 more schedule for 2013, I can’t find the time to do justice to thos characters yet. But I will! And there’s a huge honkin’ big backlist of Bullet Catchers and Guardian Angelinos for fans to read.

    Thank you, again, for your support of the books and the genre!


  10. Manda Collins

    Yay! Welcome, Rocki! I have to admit to some degree of sadness when I heard you were taking a break from romantic suspense for a while. But I totally get the need to focus on the other stuff right now. I am very much looking forward to your foray into the YA world. And, as you say, there are plenty of Bullet Catchers and Angelinos to reread while we wait. You’re a great storyteller no matter the subgenre, so I know we won’t go hungry for things to read. 🙂

  11. Vanilla

    Most of the romantic suspense books I have read so far have the protaganists falling in lust, rather than love. It feels like they are having sex, rather than making love, and the sex scenes are too explicit for my liking. But there are two authors whose books I absolutely love because they focus on the emotions as much on the physical aspects of the relationships. The authors are Karen Rose and J D Robb (Nora Roberts) with her In Death series. Are there any other authors like them?

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