At the end of 2012, we did a poll here at Heroes and Heartbreakers asking what you, our loyal readers, were most looking forward to reading in 2013. Romantic suspense was one of the top answers.
Readers, you are playing my hot, sexy, action-filled song.
It’s all right there in the name, isn’t it? Romance and suspense. Action mixed with sexy times, the occasional foreign locale, SEALs, bikers, and covert ops, oh my!
It's two of my favorite genres in one. Nothing beats smexy times mixed in with edge-of-your-seat suspense. —Romance Novel Reviewer The Book Vixen
Officially, the Romance Writers of America define the romantic suspense sub-genre as “romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.”
There’s a mouthful.
I believe there is an element of romantic suspense (RS) in every subgenre of romantic fiction. Whether it’s historical or paranormal or sweet contemporary or sexy contemporary or erotic romance, by its very nature, all romance novels seek to solve that most suspenseful of quandaries: will they or won’t they? We know they will—it is romance after all, which (in general) automatically guarantees an HEA or HFN depending on your particular poison. But it’s the suspenseful journey of how they do it that keeps us turning pages. Throw in some adrenaline fueled action to spike it up and now it’s really a party, and your basic romantic suspense novel.
There is nothing more exciting than a story where a hero and heroine have to figure out a mystery, catch the bad guys, or dodge a few bullets on their way to the happily-ever-after. That kind of battle to defy the odds just seems to make the reward all the more sweet. –Caridad Pinero, The Prince’s Gamble.
So yes, there's absolutely an “I love sex and danger” aspect to what makes RS an effin’ good ride. As the action ratchets up the stakes, the hero and heroine’s emotional journey continues apace. Yet it’s the proverbial ticking clock influence that invests romantic suspense novels with a unique veracity.
Thrown together to investigate, catch, and stop the villain, the hero and heroine battle their undeniable attraction, mixing sex and danger. Physical desire complicates an already complex situation. Giving in to that attraction exposes the characters, making them vulnerable. It’s a churning, twisting brew of fear, need, danger, and desire. –Beth Yarnall, author of Rush
I’ve been reading romance since my early adolescence, and cut my teeth on (and got much of my, admittedly flawed, early sexual education from) those gorgeous Old Skool romances of the '80s and '90s. But one trope with which I could never completely get on board was the idea that a true love could be achieved in a remarkably short period of time. This is why, until recent years, category romance has never held great appeal to me. For someone who approaches real-life romance very carefully, it's difficult to get on board with romance novels where a heroine and hero quickly fall in love forever and ever amen.
This is not a problem I encounter in general in romantic suspense. First, the sexy times on short notice rings with more truth because, like it or not, danger gets people hot. Adrenaline courses, lives are risked, and near-death experiences inspire the need to indulgence the most basic of needs. In such circumstances, reason devolves to the three main compulsions of the body: eat, sleep, and screw.
As for the emotional love story, here too I have no problem suspending my disbelief. Extreme circumstances, like those usually employed in an RS plot, strip the heroine and hero down to the true nature of their character, which allows me as reader and individual to believe in the authenticity of their love journey however short its length. Likewise, it demands the characters experience a fast-paced internal growth journey in response to intense, often unusual situations. There’s simply no time to pussyfoot through the emotional quagmire of the unfolding relationship—although watching them try is half the fun.
The suspense element, if done right, will propel and complicate that [emotional] journey. It should force the main character to realize certain things and tap into capabilities they doubted they had. But most of all, the suspense element drives the romantic conflict, and neither aspect of the story can stand on its own. –Roxanne St. Claire
There’s a gritty realism to romantic suspense that’s missing in other adventure-related romances like paranormal. There are no seven-foot vampire-adjacent heroes with god-like genitalia, no mystical hoo-hah infused heroines. Sure, romantic suspense is often peopled with extreme character archetypes and includes intense action not often experienced by the average reader. But grounded in real-world settings, romantic suspense allows readers to entertain the idea that one day they might have such an adventure of their own. Oh, if only.
I asked Roxanne St. Claire what she loved most about writing romantic suspense:
I love the braiding of escalating danger and escalating love. I want these two arcs to work together and sometimes clash. I especially adore coming up with ideas that force the hero and heroine to depend on each other to stay alive, solve a crime, find a treasure, or save the world in spite of the electrical attraction between them. Best of all, I love crafting a story where the suspense element of the book isn't just a sideline, but is completely intertwined with the romantic conflict, so the story can't possibly let up. There's conflict on every page, whether the hero and heroine are in bed (or shed, shower, or shack) or dodging bullets. And I love writing super-protective alpha guys who turn to mush over the smart women who fall for them.
And boy, do I love to read ‘em.
Where to Start?
By now, you’re probably thinking, “All right, all right, Krum. Get off your soapbox already and give us some recommendations.” I thought you would never ask.
Two of the New
One of the most exciting romantic suspense series out there today is Maya Banks’ KGI—Kelly Group International—series. KGI is “a super-elite, top secret, family-run business that handles the jobs the U.S. government can’t.” Newly released Book 6, Shades of Gray, is an action-packed ride that will wreck you emotionally in the very best of ways. You don’t have to start at the beginning with the first series installment, The Darkest Hour, to enjoy the latest but you will soon enough. Trust me.
A new series that’s getting a lot of chatter is Black Knights Inc by Julie Ann Walker. I sent a Hail Mary out on The Twitter for romantic suspense recommendations as I had a gift card burning in my pocket, and H&H contributor Stacey Agden immediately came back with this series. (By the way, for a breakdown of the differences between romantic suspense and romantic thriller, read Stacey’s excellent post on the matter.) The Black Knights run a tricked out motorcycle shop that serves as a front for their elite special ops team which handles the jobs too hot for anyone else (if you’re sensing a theme here, you’re not wrong). I have a weakness for bad boys in leather jackets on motorcycles so… yeah. I bought all three Black Knights Inc. books in one swipe and can’t wait for the chance to have a good glom.
Two That Never Get Old
Speaking of bad boys and vehicles, I’m a huge fan of Tara Janzen’s Steel Street series. Not every title in the eleven book series knocks it out of the park, but even the weaker installments will still have you up all night reading. These books are HOT and fast and quick. And the cars. Oh my. I recommend Crazy Hot (steamy sex in a hot rod) and Crazy Cool (drunken almost sex in an elevator), which is my absolute favorite, to start. Conveniently they are also books one and two in the series.
By now you’ve figured out that I’m a series whore, and far let it be for me to change my naughty ways with this last recommendation. I fell in love with Roxanne St. Claire’s Bullet Catcher series from the trifecta of titles First You Run, Then You Hide, Now You Die. Technically, these are the fourth, fifth, and sixth titles in the eight book series, but this linked trilogy was my first introduction to this agency of covert operators run by the steel hand of Lucy Sharpe. How could you not love a woman named Lucy Sharpe who runs herd and inspires fear in a revolving group of bad asses? Fun, super sexy, and at times ridiculously fast paced, they are not to be missed. Check. Them. Out.
Other fantastic purveyors of romantic suspense novels include the outrageous Cherry Adair, Pamela Clare, and Cindy Gerard.
Why do you like romantic suspense? And who did I miss? Tell me in the comments below.