As much as I love category romance, there are just certain lines within the Harlequin universe that are harder sells for me. Generally speaking, it tends to be any line that involves romantic suspense. Harlequin Intrigue, in particular, is a potential mine-field when it comes to navigation. Clocking in at a mere 55,000—60,000 words, the general rule of thumb is that it’s a little bit heavier on the suspense side of the story, while still incorporating a romance. It’s fast-paced and fast-moving. Which means it’s a very tricky type of story for writers to handle well. One author who I have found excels within the guidelines of Intrigue, and has yet to fail in delivering a readable story for me, is HelenKay Dimon.
Dimon’s first Intrigue was published in 2010, and November 2012 will see the launch of her ninth title for the line. She’s one of the rare authors writing category that I’m actually current on, and having read all of her titles to date, I’ve discovered why she’s so consistent for me as a reader. She doesn’t chaff against the “constraints” of the Intrigue line. She doesn’t fight them every step of the way. She embraces the guidelines, works with them, and never bites off more than she, or the reader, can chew on. Unlike the size 10 woman who desperately tries to cram herself into a size 6, Dimon doesn’t take an 80,000-word idea and try to shoe-horn it into 55,000.
Because of this slim word count, traditional whodunits in the Intrigue line are a very tall order. They exist, and some of them can even work, but I’ve personally encountered more misses than hits. A traditional mystery plot needs several suspects, with believable motives, to keep the reader guessing. You also need at least one red herring to add to the element of surprise, and on top of that you need a compelling romance and mystery to make romantic suspense work as a whole. Dimon avoids this potential pitfall by settling on thriller-style plots. Cat-and-mouse style action where at least one villain’s identity is not a secret, but rather it is their motives that are the mystery. This immediately pits the romantic couple against a compelling “bad guy,” along with various hired goons, with plenty of explosions, gun-play, and fight sequences to keep the reader moving forward.
Dimon has utilized her thriller, action-movie writing and plotting style a variety of different ways within her Intrigues. She’s already developed one single-author continuity series, The Mystery Men, which at five books long, featured five hunky heroes teaming up with five interesting heroines, and solving an overarching suspense thread of corruption within the Witness Protection Program. She’s also written several stand-alone titles, all featuring heroes in a variety of law enforcement professions ranging from Border Patrol to a sheriff’s deputy.
What makes Dimon’s Intrigues a sure-thing for this category fan is that she embraces certain well-worn plot devices within the format, while actively thumbing her nose at some of the more eye-rolling ones. Copy That featured twins. Night Moves featured a virgin heroine. She’s featured reunited lovers in Under The Gun and Gunning For Trouble, and so many Heroines Done Wrong that I might as well rattle off her entire backlist. But it’s the way she utilizes these themes that makes them work so well. Her virgin heroine? Not a dead-below-the-waist ninny who is shocked at the mere sight of a penis. The women paired up with the twin brothers don’t get them confused with each other, oh and one of them isn’t “the evil twin.”
It’s what she doesn’t do in her stories that is almost more notable. Characters engaging in sexual fun while in immediate danger? You won’t find a hero finessing his way into the heroine’s panties while they’re hiding out in a ditch and drug-runners are firing off semi-automatic weapons at them. Just, no. Heroine pregnant with triplets in some syrupy epilogue? No. And do all of her heroes get down on bended knee and propose marriage in the last chapter? No. In the case of the Mystery Men series, some past couples are still “just dating” in later books. Can I get an amen?
Ultimately, however, I love Dimon’s Intrigues because they’re fast, fun, and the perfect beach reads. There is no greater experience in the world, as a reader, than finding that book you literally cannot put down until you’ve inhaled the whole thing. I’ve done that more than once with Dimon’s Intrigues, in large part because of her interesting characters, breakneck plotting, and sizzling dialogue. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.