A Wicked Welcome to Cynthia Kuhn!

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.

30 Thoughts

  1. Welcome, Cynthia! I don’t mind romance in cozies. Then again, I don’t mind cozies without romance either. But I’m not a big fan of love triangles, at least not ones that drag on for several books. Like the mystery itself, I prefer if the love triangle is resolved by the end of the book in which it’s introduced. Of course, the author has to recognize they’re writing a love triangle in order for that to happen!

    1. Hi Marla! That’s an idea, keeping it within the book in which it’s introduced. And yes, ha, recognition is the first step. 🙂

  2. Hey, Cynthia! Congratulations on the new book. As for triangles, I started two series with my protag having a love interest, and was as surprised as she was when she shifted briefly through triangle status to end up with someone else. I didn’t prolong anybody’s misery for more than two books, though.

    1. Thank you, Edith! Those triangles can sneak up! I do love to be surprised as an author…usually. (Giggling about “misery.”)

  3. I like some romance in cozies, but not having romance is not a deal breaker. The story is the main thing for me. I’m not a big fan of the love triangle, but I agree that sometimes a love triangle is realistic. I just don’t want it to drag on too long.

  4. I do not like WordPress. I put in a password that my device remembers and it will not accept it

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Romance is fine as long it is the main focus. I am getting away from Romance suspense type genre because it is the romance- not the mystery in focus
    Nancy drew books- hardcover version whether the original and newer version is awesome
    mass market ones- focused on romance between her and Ned Yuck
    Trade book size version- less romance – more mystery. Awesome

    1. Very interesting, Sue! I hadn’t realized that the mass market paperbacks upped the Ned quotient. Thanks for sharing! (And sorry about the WP glitches…those are frustrating.)

  6. I’m okay with romance in my mysteries – cozy or not. After all, life is about love, too. But I gotta admit I’m not a huge fan of the prolonged “will they or won’t they?”or a prolonged triangle. Just make up your mind already!

  7. It’s so great to see you here again, Cynthia! I’m a big fan of romance in mysteries. I think it’s because I grew up reading a lot of romantic suspense. And as you say it adds conflict, plus almost all humans love someone why not reflect that aspect of life in our work? I too unwittingly set up a love triangle which has now been resolved.

    1. Thank you so much, Sherry (and all), for hosting! And I’m very happy to hear that it’s not completely unheard of to unintentionally construct a love triangle. We could start a club! 🙂

  8. Not just a fascinating post (love the fact that YOU were surprised by what readers saw) but also a timely one for me, since I’m writing a new something that suddenly seems to hint in these directions…. Appreciate the perspectives here so much!

  9. Congratulations on book 4! Can’t wait to read it. Love in cozies. If the story dictates and the characters want it, then of course, and triangles have so much more energy than pairs.

  10. Duncan. Veronica belonged with Duncan. Forget Logan. Pix was okay because he wasn’t Logan and Duncan was no longer an option.

    Sorry, what were we talking about?

    I get worried when I see a love triangle forming because of a couple of ling running series that still haven’t resolved the issue 20+ books later. A book or two? Fine. But dragging it out much longer than that? Yes, it’s very annoying.

    1. LOL! Fair enough…but what about Leo? He looked at Veronica with heart eyes. (Pardon us while we engage in a die-hard Marshmallow argument.)

      I hear you on the loooooooooong love triangle problem.

  11. Welcome back, Cynthia. I think in the 21st century when two characters in a relationship are single adults there has to be a really good reason for things to get drawn out and complicated. While I don’t mind a triangle unless it goes on and on and on, I love it when authors find more creative obstacles–like Deborah Crombie’s Gemma and Duncan–he’s her boss–or Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Jane and Jake–she’s a reporter, he’s a cop and a source–or the brilliant Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare and Russ–he’s married and she’s an Episcopal priest. Now there’s an obstacle.

    1. Those are excellent examples, Barbara! (The last one reminds me of how incredibly riveted everyone was by The Thornbirds too back in the day.) Thank you!

  12. I think romance, or at least the potential for romance, makes the main character more dimensional. As for triangles, I admit I stopped caring if Stephanie Plum ends up with Morelli or Ranger. As for Lila, I’ve always had this feeling (hope) that she would end up with Nate —so I’m hoping (suggesting) the author doesn’t rule it out. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Vickie–I thought she might too once that kiss happened, but then Lex sort of elbowed his way in there. Ha. Truth be told, I never imagined there would be a drop of romance in any of the books because I was totally focused on the mystery part. Surprise!

  13. I enjoy romance in cozies and don’t mind triangles. I think it matters how close they are, as in no triangles for married, engaged, or living together. Also the cozy mystery time that passes. Just because a series may have a book a year doesn’t mean that a year has passed. It really comes down to whether I still enjoy the characters and the plots.

  14. I adore romance in a cozy but am decidedly in the camp that is so over the triangle. At first, I enjoyed them but in some of my favored cozy mysteries, the triangle seemed to linger, linger, and linger. Ugh. Pick one, already! I was very disappointed when one of my favorite authors declared that there would NOT be a romantic element in her book, even though there are two great options! Yet, I respect her decision and continue to read the series. Sorry, but I digress. When reading the blurb about a book, I’m always on the look out for a romantic potential. To me, romance makes the characters a little more realistic and the book more enjoyable..

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