Monday, March 11, 2013

I read a lot of romantic suspense (of course!)


I read a lot of romantic suspense (of course!) and a lot of mysteries/thrillers. Many of the thrillers I read aren’t technically romantic suspense, but they develop relationships between their lead character and a love interest. In fact, I much prefer thrillers where there is something personal at stake – a spouse, a child, a sibling. Of course, in romantic suspense the hero/heroine relationship is of primary importance and therefore those stakes are among the highest in the book. However, I’ve been looking for more in my romantic suspense—relationships with family, friends, and the antagonist. There aren’t many, one of the drawbacks of the genre that sometimes finds itself too rigid, so I find my satisfaction elsewhere. There are many, many thrillers where the relationship aspect, whether “technically” a romance or not, is an integral part of the story.

I recently read SPILLED BLOOD by Brian Freeman which, though certainly a thriller with a fantastic plot, also had an integral subplot about the hero’s relationship with his ex-wife and their daughter. In fact, the book couldn’t have been written without that complex relationship because family relationships were at the core of the story. Without this storyline, the book would have been just another well-written thriller with nothing that made it stand out; with it, this book is now one of my favorite reads of the year.

Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller books have been among my favorite since I first read THE LINCOLN LAWYER while on a plane flying back from my first International Thriller Writers conference. This was one of those books where I stood in the baggage claim, my luggage at my feet, driven to finish it before the long drive from the airport home. I really love Mickey’s relationship with his ex-wife, and the natural conflicts that arise from her being a prosecutor and he being a criminal defense lawyer, as well as how they both love their daughter. While these books aren’t romances, they added benefit of the personal stakes and how decisions impact the personal relationship takes the books to a higher level for me. (Not to mention, Connelly is a master storyteller.)

Too often, thrillers that are otherwise great books suffer (for me) because of their lack of relationship development. The women, in particular, come across as two-dimensional or stupid. I want REAL characters, male and female. I think it’s important to state I don’t always need sex or even a romantic relationship in my books, but must have complex, real, meaningful relationships between the protagonist and other characters, whether it’s a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, or even a partner. (Love me a good buddy book! – read: give me more Elvis Cole and Joe Pike!)


This is why I’ve found that some of my favorite authors started in romantic suspense. Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, Tami Hoag—they naturally, intuitively understand that it’s relationships that drive the story, and how the protagonist is impacted by these relationships (and the external conflict/plot) that affects the characters. So while they may have left the genre, they haven’t pulled up their roots, and their books are better for it.

Are there any books on your keeper shelf in romantic suspense where the relationships outside of the romance are just as important as the romance and makes the book a better, stronger read? (And no, you can’t say J.D. Robb – she IS the master of this!) Are there any thrillers/mysteries you’ve read where you’ve been pleasantly surprised that the author developed these complex and real relationships with other characters, even if not a romance? I’m always looking for great books to read! Share your favorites!

Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 20 books and numerous short stories. Her most recent release is “Reckless,” a digital novella, out March 12. It’s followed by the sixth book in her Lucy Kincaid series, STOLEN, in June. Visit her website allisonbrennan.com for more information and excerpts!

13 comments:

  1. I can't get enough of Elvis and Joe, too. I love Karin Slaughter. She writes deep characters with personal connections and relationships. I agree that writing romance first helped the thriller authors you mentioned above! There's so many thrillers out there that are missing the simple addition of relationships between characters that would give their books an important layer of depth.

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    1. Who doesn't love Elvis and Joe! LOL. ... I think one of the problems with some thriller writers is that they create a Really Cool Plot, but sacrifice character in the process. Or maybe they internalize the character so much it doesn't show on the page. LOL. That's why when I read an amazing thriller like Spilled Blood that has all the elements -- great plot, fantastic writing, complex and authentic characters -- I have to tell everyone about it!

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  2. This is a great post, Allison. The authors you mentioned are among my favorites, including you. The genre issue is enough to drive a new author crazy, isn't it. When I received a tradtional publishing contract for my debut novel, Desperate Measures, I was surprised that my publisher classified it as a romantic suspense. There are no love scences or sex in the plot but the family ties and hidden secrets I suppose fit into the classification. What really threw me for a loop is that my novel won the Smart Writ Book Awards in the mystery/thriller category.
    Anyway, can't wait to read your latest book, Reckless. Love your books involving the Kincaids and Rogans, and of course Nick and Griff too.

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    1. There is no rhyme or reason as to what is classified as romantic suspense and what is classified as a thriller, in some cases. I think if you're a female author that has a relationship in your book writing suspense being published in mass market, you'll be marketed as romantic suspense. My former publisher marketed my books as romantic suspense; my new publisher has me as mystery/thriller. I think the key is writing a good book you want to read that fits at least one genre, and then let the marketing people figure out how to position it! Good luck with your latest (which you obviously don't need, congrats!) and thank you!

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  3. I'm always trying to figure out the difference between romantic suspense and romantic thrillers and usually give up - I just love them both! I started to go through my list of favorite authors/books I keep and realized the autors were already on the Romantic Suspense Authors list to the right. I love Lucy and Seth and just got my copy of Reckless. Thanks for the interesting post.

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    1. Thanks Karen! ... I think romantic thriller is more a marketing thing. Romantic thrillers tend to be thrillers written by women and released in mass market, where they also have a relationship with an optimistic ending. Romantic suspense tends to be more "traditional" blend of romance and suspense ... but again, it's all about marketing :) ... The two books I mentioned above are thrillers, no real romance, but I love the way the authors integrate family relationships into the story. It makes me like their protagonist more.

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  4. Thanks for the great post! You hit the nail on the head. Don't get me wrong, I love the romance, but in a "suspense/thriller" I don't want that to overshadow the story. A lot of my favs in this genre you already mentioned and I find myself more riveted by the conflicted relationships that aren't romantic than the romance. Maybe cuz I know the main couple *has* to be happy in the end. Take for instance, Lisa Gardner's Quincy and Rainie series. While I loved Quincy and Rainie's complex relationship, I was also drawn to Quincy's estranged relationship with his daughter, Kimberly. Exploring that relationship over the series was just as satisfying to me as the romantic one.

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  5. I was given one of Andrew Gross's first books from a friend and fell in love with his books. He has co-written with James Patterson and also has his own books. A couple have Ty Hauck as a detective in them and his relationships in the book. My only problem with Andrew Gross is that when you get into his books he doesn't write fast enough...

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    1. LOL -- Andy is guest blogging on Murder She Writes next week! I agree, he obviously learned from a master and then upped his game on his own.

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  6. I'll read anything Lisa Gardner writes. I love her characters and all the complex relationships, and my mom said her latest TOUGH & GO is her best yet ... I don't see how, because I just finished CATCH ME and I don't see how she can top it! I think I have a crush on her ...

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  7. Roxanne St. Claire Bullet Catchers series books are in my keeper shelf for romantic suspense. I love that the relationship outside of the romance is important as the romance and these two items does makes the book better and stronger read. I'm a suspense seeker but I do need the romance to develop the relationship.

    Another author I discovered last year is Rick Mofina. I love that Jack Gannon character.

    kmccandle(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  8. I love Roxanne and Rick! Two great authors who really create amazing characters and relationships.

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  9. Thank you so much for the mention, everyone. Allison, you are always fantastic. Thank you, Rick Mofina

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