Wicked Wednesday — Adding Romance in Mysteries

we-love-our-readersfebruary-giveaway-1We are having a “We Love Our Readers” giveaway every Wednesday in February. Leave a comment for a chance to win no later than midnight the Thursday after the post. This week one reader has a chance to win a book from Jane and one from Sheila.

All of our books have at least some romantic elements. When thinking about your series, did you have a plan in mind for what kind of relationship your protagonist would have? Has it been an integral  part of your series or a subplot? Has anything surprised you about the relationship? Any other thoughts about the role of romance in mysteries?

Liz: I didn’t really have a plan for Stan (ha, I love saying that) other than I knew she was dating a jerk when the series opened, and I knew she needed to find a “really great guy” somewhere along the way in Frog Ledge. I had a vague idea of Jake and the pub, but as I got into the stories, he and his family became a major part of the story. Stan works with one of his sisters and the other is the resident state trooper, so she’s been thrust into another set of family dynamics to navigate as her romance moves along. It’s been fun to write. As far as the role of romance in mysteries, I do like having a romantic subplot, but I don’t like when they overshadow the mysteries themselves. I mean, dead bodies are why we’re here, right?

Jessie: All of my books have featured romance so I know it’s in my subconscious but it isn’t at the top of my mind. That being said, I’m always delighted when I see how it unfolds. I think the relationships between characters are what makes readers return to a series over and over again. It certainly can’t be less true for the romantic storyline than those involving friendship or family. Some of my favorite scenes in all of my books have been surprising doses of romance. I agree with Liz however, that when writing mysteries the romance should not be the most important part.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontBarb: Someone once said, “Most mystery authors would rather have their protagonist kill someone than kiss someone.” That may be an exaggeration, in cozies our amateur sleuths rarely blow people away, but for me, just barely. The main character in my first mystery, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, was happily married–and that was the point. Unlike so many professional sleuths with tortured personal lives, I wanted to show a happy home life as my idol Ruth Rendell had done in her Wexford series. But I realized in the writing that did cut off many sources of tension and I looked forward in the Maine Clambake Mysteries to writing a main character who was younger and single. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a triangle, because I get impatient with those when they go on too long. And I didn’t want every man she met to fall for Julia, because that really drives me crazy. Now I’m to the point where Julia and her boyfriend Chris need to move forward or move on. Don’t know yet which it will be!

Sherry: I think I have a romance writer lurking in me. I think I’d rather kiss than kill and I adore a good love triangle. That said I had no intention of writing one when I set out to write the Sarah Winston books. What I did want to do was look at complicated relationships. In Tagged For Death, Sarah is put in a position that she has to help her ex-husband clear his name when he’s accused of murder. She thinks he’s a schmuck, but she knows him well enough to know he wouldn’t kill someone. After Sarah had a one night stand I wondered how to further complicate her life and that happened by having the one night stand be the DA that would be prosecuting her ex. It all just took off from there and a triangle was born.

Julie: I love romance in my mysteries. Writing the Clock Shop series I knew that I’d want Ben to be a potential for Ruth. I also knew that Moira and the Chief liked each other. But how to add the romantic tension, without going stale, or speeding up Ruth’s journey back to Orchard? She was, after all, recently divorced. I’m having fun adding the romance. That said, I suspect a future protagonist will be single and not speed into anything.

when-the-grits-hit-the-fanEdith: A pattern developed in the first two books in both my Local Foods Mysteries and Maddie Day’s (my) Country Store Mysteries, where the guy I had set up to be the romantic interest just wasn’t working out and he wrote himself out of the books. Luckily, another prospect strolled in in each case, the state police detective in the farming books and a hunky local electrician in the Indiana series. I didn’t plan on either of these, but they seem to be working out. My 1888 Quaker midwife Rose Carroll starts out with a handsome doctor and she’s sticking to him – but other tensions present themselves, both from the clash in their faiths and from his high-society mother who frowns on Rose for a number of reasons. I do like romance in my mysteries. Almost all of us have or have had romance in our lives – it’s just part of the human condition. And if cozy/traditional mysteries don’t reveal the human condition, what do they do?

Readers: What do you think about romance in mysteries?




101 Thoughts

  1. I think that without a touch or so of romance you might write a good book, but maybe not as interesting.

  2. I don’t mind a little romance in mysteries but dislike it when the romance turns to a love triangle and threatens to overshadow the mystery.

  3. Oh, I’m good with romance as long as it’s done well. I’ve dumped series where I liked all the characters but the romance/interpersonal relationship bothered me – one, for example, had the husband harranguing the wife at every turn about sleuthing instead of tradition wifely responsibilities. It was infuriating and tedious.

    And like Barbara, I hate triangles that go on too long (Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden series anyone?) but I definitely feel they can make things (ha, I had to correct that from flings – so Freudian) more interesting if done well … and resolved swiftly.

    I think since Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand series was my return to the mystery genre after I’d aged out of Nancy Drew, I look at Annie and Max Darling as a good “norm” for romance in mysteries. 😊

      1. Edith! How could you not have read anything by Carolyn Hart? I mean, that’s like a sin of omission!

  4. I do like a little romance sprinkled into a mystery. I agree with Barbara that it adds another element of tension. But since it’s a mystery, the romance should not overshadow the book. I do enjoy a good triangle when it is written well and doesn’t drag on forever.

  5. Writing my first (and only) mystery, I felt a bit self-conscious anyway, so I purposely avoided any romance, but my beta readers wanted some tingle. So I sprinkled in a little, remembering that I was starting a series and didn’t want to bind my main character to anyone too soon. I also tried to avoid the main character/police officer relationship, but, dang, that policeman is just so intriguing. But I also included another possible love interest. It will be interesting to see where it will go–but I plan to have it go slowly.

    1. Sometimes characters just walk in and say, “It’s me. I am the romantic interest.” Hard to say no! I hadn’t planned the police officer thing, either, in my Local Foods series, but it just happened. ;^) Taking it slow is a great plan, though.

  6. I’m fine with a little romance in my mystery books, but not to the point where halfway through the book I forget whether I’m reading a mystery or a romance novel. It can be tricky finding the right balance in incorporating a little romance. But when done right it can add another equally enjoyable element to the story. That’s been my experience.

  7. One of the most memorable reviews of my book ON THE ROAD WITH DEL & LOUISE was from a blogger who said that the real mystery was why the book was labelled a mystery, since it was really a love story. Still not sure how well I balanced things.

    1. Art – On the Road is on my kindle and I just decided it’s today’s read – the one bright star about being couchbound is reading a book a day. ;^) I’ll let you know if I think it’s more mystery or more love story! (And I’m sorry I haven’t gotten to it until now…)

      1. No worries, Edith—my own TBR pile is ever-growing, so I know how it is! Do hope you enjoy—and interested in what you think of the balance! (I couldn’t argue, really; the relationship is a key part of the story….) Hope your recovery is going well; sending good thoughts your way!

  8. Romance–falling in love–is an integral part of life, and I’ll admit I feel uncomfortable with a character who has no interest in creating a close relationship with someone else, even if it’s only very slowly. Think Miss Marple, who may have had an early heartbreak but has been comfortably single (although with a lot of friends and relatives to visit) ever since–she troubles me.

    Some of my protagonists are coming out of bad relationships, or others are trying to figure out who they are and what they want from their lives, before tangling up with another person. But they do get there eventually. They’re human!

  9. Readers seem to like the touch of romance. My protagonist, Lee, is a young widow and the romance with her detective boyfriend Pete progressed quite slowly through several books–until readers urged me to get on with it! So I did. They did too–and they both seem quite content with how it’s turning out.

  10. I hate love triangles. I also don’t like when I invest in a couple and then the author breaks them up. But other than that, romance is a part of life and as long as it doesn’t take over from the mystery, then all is good.

    1. I worried about that with Cam and Jake, Dru Ann – breaking up a couple my readers might have become invested in. But in the first book he revealed himself to be too volatile to be a decent boyfriend, so what could I do? And at least it was pretty clear by book two the relationship couldn’t last. I hope. ;^)

      1. Cam and Jake didn’t seem right for each other, so I had no problem with the breakup. I like Cam and Pete as a couple much better.

      1. LOL! We are, after all, mystery writers, and that’s the main focus of our stories. (And sometimes solving mysteries gets in the way of relationships!)

  11. I never thought I really liked “Romance” novels, but I find my favorite mystery series all have a romance at the heart of the story. I suppose that works in mysteries because there is such a fine line between love and hate. We need one to get to the other because in mystery, especially a Cozy, crimes of passion are usually the cause of the crime.

  12. I think with a mystery the mystery should be the first focus. Romance can be added later. I haven’t read any Carolyn Hart either – may try one later today. I do not like the romances that go on and on and on and on — I stopped reading a series because of that.

  13. Romance is part of life and if we want to write full, 3D characters, there has to be some romance – at least I think so. But like so many others, I hate when the romance overwhelms the mystery and what we wind up with is a soap opera (this is true not just of romance but a lot of non-mystery elements). Yes, characters should grow and develop, but don’t forget what we’re writing here!

    And I like the hint of a triangle – like maybe someone from the past shows up or a new character appears on the scene – but for the love of Pete, please don’t drag it out forever. Same goes of the “will they/won’t they?”. Real people generally don’t act like that.

    1. Liz, the will they/won’t they is another excellent point. And as writers it’s a balance of people being offended — I’ve heard some crazy stories — and people saying get on with it!

  14. I like a mystery that has, as Sherry says ,”a side of love but not a full serving” or perhaps an amuse bouche of romance (I’ve been wanting to drop that term forever– I hope the context is right!) I like seeing relations develop (or not!) along with the series, but the main focus should always be the mystery, not the romance.

    1. I think many of our protagonists have to take romance slow, because they’re so busy solving the crime and holding down a job too, usually.

  15. I always like that an element of cozies is a romance. I like that is non graphic and yet tension filled. Keep on keeping on and writing please.

    1. As we often say on author panels there’s romance, but they closed the door before it gets too exciting. 😉

  16. I don’t mind a bit of romance, but I really dislike it when there is a love triangle. Why has that become a go to in cozies? To me, it makes the protagonist more unreliable and unrelatable.

    1. I am hearing that a lot of people don’t like a love triangle. We are all listening!

      1. I might argue that it could work for a while–protagonist knows in her head that she should go with A, but her heart says B–but if it goes on too long she looks indecisive, which doesn’t make her a strong lead character. Figure it out already! (Or, why I stopped reading about Stephanie Plum.)

  17. I like romance in the mysteries that I read to be a fun side dish. Something I enjoy, though not the main dish.

  18. I love the romance factor in my cozy mysteries. To me it adds an element of realism. I’m on the fence about triangles, and I think, Sherry you made a great point about them lingering too long.

  19. Romance can be fun when done well. However I certainly don’t want it taking over the book or the series. And I like to see progress in a relationship instead of the same thing over and over. And if your romantic sub-plot involves something that should have been a conversation that would have revolved everything you are doing it wrong. Translation, your characters had better act like adults.

  20. I love my mysteries to add a touch of romance included, even a little spice or a triangle. Since we suspend reality in accepting that often these small towns are riddled with murders…romantic entanglements add realism.

  21. I like a little romance but triangles that drag on and on or even straight romances where one of the two parties can’t seem to make up his or her mind if they want to be involved irritate me if it drags on for book after book.

  22. I’m a huge cozy mystery reader and I think a little romance is great in the story. However, it does become a bit annoying when the romance drags on for too long or too many “misunderstandings” keep the couple apart. I think some authors are really good at keeping the suspense of the romance going while others paint themselves into a corner. I suppose, as fans, we constantly want action and suspense and the author has to be crafty in keeping the storyline going for so many books. I always think readers like certain series because of the romance and that’s what keeps them coming back. We all need a little romance and I think a cozy mystery does a great job of supplying us with some love and laughs!

  23. Authors who add a little romance to the plot of a mystery is a plus in my book.Makes it more interesting to read and makes me wonder dreamily about will she get her man or just the killer!

  24. A little romantic tension is always great! Never underestimate the power of Love!

  25. I like a little romance, however, I don’t want it to take away from the mystery.

  26. I like a touch of romance in mysteries. It adds a little something extra to the story and its just a normal part of life. Cozy mysteries always handle romance in good taste and adds another layer to the story.

    1. That’s one of the things I like about cozies — I don’t have to write any gory details. As much as I like romance I don’t want to go into the nitty-gritty of relationships!

  27. I agree with both Barb and Liz:
    Barb: “I didn’t want a triangle, because I get impatient with those when they go on too long.”
    Liz: “I do like having a romantic subplot, but I don’t like when they overshadow the mysteries themselves. I mean, dead bodies are why we’re here, right?”
    It seems a romance is mandatory in a cozy, but I get tired of triangles that go on forever. I also get very tired of either the man or the woman who is so unsure of himself/herself that the relationship is in constant danger of breaking up over something stupid or imagined. Or as Jessie said: “I agree with Liz however, that when writing mysteries the romance should not be the most important part.”

  28. Ok dont hate me, but I do not like romance in my cozies. I only read cozies if I can help it and most have some romance in them. I just either skip through some of it or dont pay that much attention. I hate love triangles, but that will not stop me from reading a cozy from an author I love. I much rather see great families, fun friends and of course pets, lol. If there is a relationship in the story I enjoy that too. I just do not like the angst and pursuit in some romance storylines if that makes any sense. And definitely not TMI, thank you very much

  29. I agree with Liz–I like romance but I don’t want it to take over the mystery. I am not a big fan of triangles, especially if they go on too long.

  30. There is a part of me that still hopes for happy endings, especially when the world seems hell bent on destruction.

  31. I think it makes the mystery more interesting. People have romantic lives. Maybe not all the time, but most people are probably in a relationship at least once in their lives.

  32. I like my cozies with a side of “clean’ romance. From book to book, I like to watch the romance progress!

  33. A little is good, but there is a very fine line for me. I like the book to be about the mystery and the main character and the love interest to be written in very slowly. And I like it to be clean and sweet, not sappy romance.

  34. I don’t mind a little romance in mysteries, as long as the mystery remains paramount. I don’t care much for straight romance books and most of the books labeled “romantic suspense” are very short on the suspense. And always, I prefer that the bedroom door remain closed. I’d rather use my own imagination than have an author tell me, in clinical terms, what’s happening.

  35. Hi ladies! Yes, I like a tad bit of romance in my cozy mysteries. However, why is it that the protagonist always falls for a cop? Why not the reporter or maybe the teller in the bank? I’m always frustrated when I pick up a new series and low and behold there’s the cop as “Mr. Love Interest”. Love your blog & thanks for a chance in the give-a-way!

    1. I agree that cops, sheriffs, and private eyes are popular partners for amateur sleuths. There must be other people in communities that hear what’s going on!

  36. I prefer mysteries without any romance just because I like to focus on the mystery part. I like a strong independent woman character.

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