I grew up in a household with two rabid mystery readers, my father and sister. This means I have read my share of mystery novelists. To name only a very few: Arthur Conan-Doyle, Agatha Christie, John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, and Sue Grafton. I like mysteries a lot and read them to this day.
Romance, however, has long been my go-to genre. It’s what I read the most and the genre I always come back to sooner than later. In fact, it’s the elements of romance that I most miss in other books I read. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the major reasons for my Romance love is that Romances tend not to dismiss or omit the female view.
With respect to mysteries, there are plenty of female detectives, amateur or otherwise, and have been for decades. There’s Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Dororthy Sayers’s Lord Peter Whimsey series, and Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series featuring PI Kinsey Malone. More recently, Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day series debuted a quirky female protagonist and gave her a strong potential romantic partner. The romance in Katia Lief’s You Are Next, is really, really well done. It’s not like there aren’t mysteries with a touch of romance. But it’s only a touch.
One of the reasons I prefer Romance over mystery is, perhaps not surprisingly, I miss the sexual tension of a good romance. But I also miss the unstinting embrace of the feminine. Miss Marple is a woman with no interest in a Relationship (Big “R”). Christie’s mysteries are pretty well founded in the Holmesian powers of an awesome intellect, which, plainly, Miss Marple possesses. Miss Marple’s grandmotherliness is a wonderful antidote to all those male-centric mysteries that whisper quietly that intellectual prowess is a male domain.
I’ve ended up feeling that mysteries, no matter how much I adore them, deliberately give short shrift to the (perceived) girliness of Romance and the possibility of a happy ending. Even once the criminal is brought to justice, the world often remains a dark and sinister place.
Mysteries so often give us the death, abandonment or flat out dumping of the female romantic protagonists, as in MacDonald’s wonderful Travis McGee series. We see the demise of Joe Leaphorn’s wife and the disintegration of Jim Chee’s relationship with Janet in Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mystery series. And, of course, the door closes for Lord Peter Wimsey and his lady love.
Then I read my first Stephanie Plum mystery. The feminine was embraced from the start. She’s not secure about her figure, she wears make-up, dresses for effect (and sometimes not) and can obsess about how she looks. She eats doughnuts and says to herself, “I’ll diet tomorrow.”
She’s no Miss Marple, sitting in her parlor with a cup of tea while she mentally eviscerates the lies of murderers, but she’s no dummy either. Plum doesn’t go for a daily run like Kinsey Malone, though perhaps she fantasizes about it. But most of all, she accepts her sexuality and the existence of Romance as a part of her world. The Plum series doesn’t turn away from the potential for a Romantic happy ending.
Janet Evanovich’s first Plum novel (One for the Money, 1994) starts out a lot like a Romance, aside from the first person narrative, which is atypical for Romance. There’s no prologue that shows us a murder or that sets up a psychologically unbalanced villain. Instead, we learn about her past with Joe Morelli and her current unsatisfactory love life. Plum has been unemployed for six months and is now in desperate financial straits, a situation that leads her to take a job as a bounty hunter.
It’s a classic Romance set-up, focused on the heroine, introducing the idea of the hero as a possible romantic partner and then putting any future romantic relationship in serious doubt from the moment she learns that the devastatingly handsome and sexually accomplished Joe Morelli is her first bounty hunter assignment.
What’s different about Stephanie Plum as a Mystery heroine is that she’s in no way resistant to a Relationship. She’s not emotionally or sexually closed off the way so many other female mystery protagonists are. She likes men and we get the feeling she’d like to have one in her life again. Joe Morelli might not be completely good for her, but boy, he’s hot, physically and emotionally. More than once in One for the Money (and throughout the series) we see Morelli’s feelings for Plum. He really does care about her, even if, at some level, they may not be entirely compatible.
And then there’s Ranger. The bad boy. The hot, hot hot bad boy and well. Ranger. Come on. Ranger is a Romance hero archetype. Tall, dark and handsome, he’s also mysterious, emotionally aloof and former special forces, with all manner of scary skills he uses and displays in his pursuit of Plum.
It doesn’t hurt that the series is funny as all get out, either. For me, the Plum series offers the perfect mix of mystery, humor and Romance.
So, here’s my question for you. If you, like me, read and enjoy this series, are you Team Morelli or Team Ranger and why?
I am Team Ranger, by the way.
Carolyn Jewel lives in Northern California. She writes Romance and bakes a lot, except when she is at the day job. You can find her on the web at www.carolynjewel.com, on Twitter and on Facebook. You can find her books online and at fine bookstores everywhere.