So firstly, what is romantic suspense? Well, other than the obvious answer (a suspense novel which is also romantic) it’s one of the hottest subgenres in romance fiction at the minute, and taken in it’s broadest sense refers to any story that, while also featuring the protagonist/s being involved in a romance, is driven by a suspense story, generally a crime or mystery plot. In that sense, most of what I write could fall under the banner of romantic suspense, even my steamy historical romances for Harlequin Mills and Boon, which abound with kidnappings by highwaymen, Borgia poison plots and in my latest, The Rake of Glendir, there’s a smuggler and spy plot driving the romance and pushing my protagonists together, so to speak. My forthcoming paranormal series for Xcite revolves around preternatural crime in New York, with the hero leaving the NYPD to strike out on his own, and my first crime novel for Harlequin, ‘Sins of the Children’ while leaning more towards the crime end of the market, features a romance between the protagonist that couldn’t exist independently of the suspense act of the plot. Therein lies the key to understanding the genre – the romance and suspense cannot just exist independently of each other, bumping alongside like two separate subplots, they must be inextricably entwined. And therein lies the challenge.
It’s not enough to have, say, your heroine, caught up in a conspiracy or murder mystery and just happen to be falling in love with her next door neighbour at the same time. Neither is it enough for the next door neighbour to be somehow also involved in the conspiracy/murder/alien takeover, although that’s getting nearer the mark. No, every development of the suspense plot must further the development of the romance, and vice versa. If one element is taken away, the other falls down. Although this can make plotting more fiendishly complex, it also makes for a richly layered, multi-textured story with an ending that is doubly satisfying; not only does the girl get the guy, but this also results in (or is a result of) the plot being foiled/murder being solved/world being saved. It really is worth the challenge.
I’m currently writing the first in a series of cozy mysteries for St Martins Press, which I would also classify as romantic suspense. Some genre purists would disagree with me, mainly because there are many cozies that don’t feature a strong romance plot, but mine does, and again in a way that is (I hope) bound up with the murder mystery. Blending the romance in with a traditional mystery plot offers an extra challenge. A mystery is largely made up of discovering clues, laying red herrings, setting up suspects and building up to the big reveal. This requires some intricate plotting of it’s own. Add to that an entwined developing romance, and the fact that in today’s market the mystery plot has evolved to be more suspenseful, more infused with tension, much like the modern thriller, and writing the modern cozy can feel like putting together a jigsaw puzzle in the dark, with pieces that keep changing size. Nevertheless, it’s great fun, and I’d advise any romance author with more than a passing interest in the crime/thriller market to have a go at romantic suspense. Try it, you might like it…
Here’s a list of authors who I personally believe do romantic suspense – in all it’s forms – really well.
Charlaine Harris – the author of True Blood fame, she began her career writing the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, traditional cozies with a hefty dollop of romance. Most recently she’s written the Lily Bard Mysteries, small town mysteries with a romantic hook and an almost noirish feel.
Nora Roberts – her more recent books such as The Witness and Whiskey Creek are very close to what you might term ‘pure’ romantic suspense.
Laurell K Hamilton – the first ten books of her bestselling Anita Blake series could be termed as paranormal erotic romantic suspense (the erotic elements take over as the series progresses).
Carla Cassidy – one of Harlequins leading romantic suspense authors for their ‘Intrigue’ line, and with good reason.
Susan Caroll – her Dark Queen series weaves historical romance in with suspense and an eerie touch of the paranormal to create intriguing, tension filled stories.