I’m delighted to welcome Cynthia Kuhn back to the blog today! The 4th book in her Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, The Subject of Malice, was just released, and we’re thrilled to help her celebrate!
The Subject is Love
The amount of romance readers want to encounter in their cozy mysteries seems to vary widely. Yet one particularly hot issue involves a crazy little thing called love…triangle.
Those in favor of the love triangle have pointed out that it can intensify conflict, increase the emotional stakes, and incorporate humor. Such readers may also enjoy cheering for their favorite suitors. They’re engaged by the tension.
Those who despise the love triangle have suggested that it typically doesn’t add anything to the mystery and can drag on for far too long. Such readers may want two people in a relationship, tops. (Or none.) Some vow not to read books with love triangles in them, ever.
When I first became aware of the opposing views, I thought, Whew, it’s a good thing I don’t have one of those in the Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries.
Imagine my surprise when I happened upon reviews that mentioned a love triangle in the series. Then an interviewer asked me which person Lila would end up with, and people emailed wanting to know the same thing.
Wait, what now?
Let’s see…Nate and Lila have chemistry. You could even say they’re flirty. He kisses her near the end of book one (The Semester of Our Discontent) because he’s so relieved she’s alive and overcome by emotion. And she realizes, after learning about his girlfriend, that she Has Some Feelings about it. But while there may be an unspoken potential between them, they don’t dwell on it. (Her cousin Calista does say Nate and Lila are soulmates, but, well, she says a lot of things.)
That leaves only Lila’s relationship with Lex, which honestly wasn’t part of the initial plan, but as I wrote their early dialogues, it became clear that there was an undeniable spark between them. By book four (The Subject of Malice), they’ve been together for awhile.
Overall, I’m not sure it’s a love triangle.
Then again…I’m not sure it isn’t.
It’s been my experience that the longer you work on a particular storyline, the more likely it is that a certain invisible book logic and momentum can take over. I know it seems like the author should be in charge, but sometimes I intend to write one thing and end up writing the opposite. So who knows what will happen next?
Developing a love triangle (if I haven’t already) could be risky, given that many people loathe them. Then again, should cozy writers feel compelled to abandon the dynamics altogether? Memorable triangles appear in a variety of genres: Bridget Jones’s Diary (Bridget, Mark, Daniel), Twilight (Bella, Edward, Jacob), The Hunger Games (Katniss, Gale, Peeta), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Buffy, Angel, Spike), Veronica Mars (Veronica, Logan, Piz), The Great Gatsby (Nick, Daisy, Tom), Pride and Prejudice (Elizabeth, Wickham, Darcy), and even Star Wars (Luke, Leia, and Han)—just to name a few. Yes, we’ve seen triangles before. They’re nothing new. Yet the very fact that there are so many says something, too, doesn’t it? They may move us tremendously if they’re depicted well. We can become highly invested in the outcome.
Full disclosure: I am indeed the sort to cry when the music swells and the two characters who are supposed to be together fall into each other’s arms at last. There’s no getting around that. Is it possible that my subconscious has been busily orchestrating everything in my books without my knowledge, just to get to that moment all along? (Or not.)
Ultimately, of course, the cozy doesn’t need any romance whatsoever to be successful. The genre itself doesn’t demand it (unlike, say, romantic suspense). But the cozies out there definitely present a spectrum: some main characters are contentedly single, some are looking for love, some are in committed relationships, and some are tangled in triangles. And for me as a reader, all of those situations can be very compelling.
What are your thoughts on romance in a cozy mystery?
Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries featuring an English professor with a knack for sleuthing. The Semester of Our Discontent received an Agatha Award for best first novel; The Art of Vanishing and The Spirit in Question were Lefty Award nominees for best humorous mystery. She blogs with Chicks on the Case and is past president of the Colorado chapter of Sisters in Crime. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.