Thursday, 16 October 2014

Romantic Suspense Novels by Chris Longmuir

Reviewed by Chris Longmuir

I thought I would do something different in terms of a review for Eclectic Electric, instead of reviewing one book I would review the genre termed Romantic Suspense and provide some examples of the genre.

Romantic suspense is a crime category I had not been aware of until I heard an author talking about it on a panel at Crimefest. This convention which is held annually at Bristol, focuses on crime books and writers, so this made me think that perhaps this type of crime fiction might be worthy of further exploration. My initial investigation into the genre confirmed that romantic suspense is not widely recognized in the UK as crime fiction, although it is a popular genre in the US. However, I did mention the genre to a friend who writes contemporary romance novels, and she not only knew what romantic suspense is, but she gave me the impression that this is a well known category of romance. So, that begs the question, as to whether romantic suspense is a subgenre of romance or of crime. And whether crime writers back away from romance in their thrillers, although I have read many crime books with a thread of romantic interest in them.

I was unable to find definitions of romantic suspense in any of the reference books on British crime fiction that I consulted, although I did find basic definitions elsewhere. Ultimately it boils down to a combination of romance and suspense using elements of crime, mystery, danger, adventure, and even espionage. It must have female and male main characters, and a villain, and is often told from the female point of view. They are fast paced with a build up of suspense, and often depict graphic sexual scenes.

The first book I read in this genre was The Gingerbread Man, by Maggie Shayne, and it erased all my preconceptions of the mixture of romance with crime, in a crime novel. This book mixed child abduction and murder with an ongoing romantic story involving a cop, and a young woman whose sister had been abducted when both of them were children. Both strands of the plot worked well, weaving together in a satisfactory way. The action was breathtaking and the suspense built steadily to reach an exciting climax. Meanwhile the romance aspect of the story developed in time-honoured fashion from initial resentment and dislike to a growing attachment which both main characters resisted until their passions overcame them, and ended up with a satisfactory conclusion. I must say I am not in the habit of reading romantic fiction, so I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. However, the blend of romance and suspense pulled me in and I enjoyed it.

My next choice was Silent Deceit, by Kallie Lane. This was a novella set in Canada, so it was a shorter read, and it was completely different to the previous book. The crime element in this one involved a female undercover cop looking for her brother who is missing. The action is set in a bikers’ bar and the boss of the bar is a real villain. I had mixed feelings about this one, and although it was well written I could not get into the characters. The villain was underdeveloped and only appeared on the scene fleetingly which I thought was a lost opportunity. Further development could have made him more menacing and intensified the suspense. The romance element seemed to be more of a sex element, and if you like your romance hot and steamy this may be the book for you. I thought it was disjointed, with the sex scenes added in between the action. It was not a book with the feel good factor, although you might feel differently. It just wasn’t for me. I am not even sure it met the criteria of a romantic suspense book.

The next book I read was Imposter, by Karen Fenech, and I was hooked from the first chapter. This author certainly knows how to write suspense, and the beginning of the novel was extremely fast paced. After such an exciting start the rest of the book flowed and was well structured. It was expertly written and the characterization was excellent. If the initial fast pace had been maintained it would have made an uncomfortable read, but there were quieter passages, sexy passages, and more suspense passages, all expertly intermingled to make a well structured and satisfying novel.

I have noticed with romantic suspense books that they are sexier than other crime novels which is in no doubt due to the romance element, and this book was no exception. It was a woman in jeopardy novel, with the two main characters distrustful of each other, and fighting the sexual attraction they both felt. The romance and the suspense were so entwined it would be difficult to separate the plot strands, and I think that truly makes this a prime example of romantic suspense fiction.

When I started reading my selection of books in this genre, I do not think I had fully grasped how graphic the sexual scenes would be. I am not a prude, and I have written sex scenes in my time, but nothing quite as graphic as I found in these novels. In comparison to mainstream crime novels and the different subgenres, sex is not a taboo subject, but again, I have not come across anything quite as explicit as the sex scenes in romantic suspense. I can only assume this is the romance influence on the books, and readers of romance fiction are looking for something more graphic than crime writers provide.

The information used for this review was taken from my non-fiction book Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution which examines many sub-genres of crime fiction as well as giving information on ebooks and crime fiction in general.

Chris Longmuir