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.
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.
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.
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.