Feb 23 2011 5:00pm

“He’s About to Kill Us...Let’s Shag.”

Creature from the Black Lagoon

I used to say that I simply didn't read the subgenre of romantic suspense (RS), but that's not really true. In fact, some of the authors I would've put on my favorites list write RS. And then a few of my “top ten reads of the year” have been RS as well . . . so, slowly and surely, RS has been making its insidious way into my reading repertoire.

So why didn't I read it at first? Perhaps because I find the romance loses out in RS, or at least is unsatisfying/insufficient to me. The necessity of plot development and the focus on the burgeoning relationship are at odds. Especially with the shorter novel lengths. Maybe it'd work in a saga (although those to me are more grandiose story lines about generations of a family).

Relationships are complicated. Writing a believable suspense plot is also difficult, and combining the genres takes talent. Then there is also the development of series, and books that end with a cliff-hanger rather than the conclusion of a story arc. And I hate that. For some reason I can take that in films, but not books.

The people who love RS and only read in that genre say they like the emotion, but also crave the complicated plot twists and action, the danger of the hero and heroine running and fighting for their lives.

I'd counter, though, that those books are unbelievable because of the situation. One minute the hero and heroine will be running from the mob, trying to get out of the way or dodge a gun fight . . . and then they'll stop in an alley for sexytimes. Incredulous would be the word to describe how I feel. Followed by annoyance, disgust, what have you. What kind of moron would want to go have sex when just minutes, or even seconds ago, an armed man out to kill you was chasing you? Also, an alley. All that combined doesn't—or shouldn't—put someone in an amorous frame of mind. Maybe once the hero and heroine arrive at a safe place, sure—then they're cleared for that whole life-affirming, exhilarating, “hey we lived!” response.

This also bothers me because usually the hero, or the heroine, if not both, has some sort of military or law enforcement training. Generally the hero, and usually he's the best. But if he were truly the best, he wouldn't be dumb enough to put himself and others in danger by making stupid decisions. (Speaking of stupid decisions, characters almost never go to the police—which doesn't make sense.) I'm not trying to rip on RS—just explain why I avoided it for so many years and don't gravitate towards it first now. I read a number of books and got burned.

Forget the overarching plot and story; if I can't believe the character's individual actions, the novel isn't going to work for me. I need the whole package—a believable story, sensible (or as much as the situation or his/her personality allows) romance, emotional development and connection, and situations and circumstances that would or could actually occur. 

Behind Closed Doors by Shannon McKennaOf course I know not all books are the same, and it's unfair to judge all books based one, which is why I haven't written off the genre. In fact, some of the first RS stories I read were by Shannon McKenna, and I'd say she writes erotic romantic suspense. The stories are wild, and yet they work for the McCloud brothers and the women who love them. Also Lori Foster's—hers are more low key. No international terrorists or mercenaries, generally, but the plots are engaging and interesting all the same. For Lori Foster, I'd say her SBC books or her books set in the city of Temptation can fall under the RS umbrella. HelenKay Dimon and Shiloh Walker also write excellent stories that are categorized as RS as well.

Causing Havoc by Lori Foster

On the flip side, there are some authors I really enjoyed reading until they moved to writing RS, at which point I basically stopped reading their books. So you see, a number of authors I enjoy write in the genre, but when I describe what books I like or authors, asking for suggestions, the generalization is usually, “Oh, so you like lighter books.” This is true in regard to books, yes. (I don't know why, but if I watch something on TV or at the movies, I'm OK with it not ending happily.)

My question to you is (cuz there always has to be one, right? to make this interactive and fun for everyone?), what do you think of romantic suspense? Do you like it? Love it? Hate and avoid it? Who are your favorite RS authors, if you have any? Do you prefer suspense in movies and television or in books?


Limecello is a reader, reviewer, lawyer, foodie and discusser of all things random. You can also visit her at her blog or Twitter.

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Amber McMichael
1. buriedbybooks
Hmm...I love romantic suspense. I always have. But I'm also an avid mystery reader, too. The action/gore/body counts don't bother me the way they seem to bother some people.

The key to believing in the relationship for me is if the action takes place over a longer period of time and/or it existed in some form prior to the current suspenseful crisis. I am not a fan of the instant emotional attachment scenario. It takes time to fall in love. More so if you're spending most of your time together running from something or someone.

I don't find it unbelievable that two people would hook up while running for their lives, anymore than I would find it unbelievable that people at war (soldiers etc) could fall in love. Look at the number of war brides during WWII. But I can't believe in the ones that don't show some time passing. HEAs for me must be built on more than just adrenaline.
2. ka
Well thought out post. I generally avoid them for several reasons you described - military personnel who do not engage in security measures or common sense. These hit too close to home for me and I prefer my romance reading to be "escapism."

I do agree with you that Lori Foster and Helen Kay Dimon deliver engaging stories. I have not read the other authors you referenced. There are others that I have enjoyed, including Pamela Clare and Cindy Gerard. I tried these authors after meeting them at RomCon. I joined them for intimate chats. I listened to how they meticulously research. I also came to appreciate their passion for writing and concern for the real life heroes that are portrayed in romantic suspense.
romance reader
4. bookstorecat
I used to read quite a lot of RS, but got away from it over the years. Usually the "suspense" part is so forgettable*--what's the point? I'd rather any suspense come from the relationship at the center of the book, not from some contrived "they're out to get us" device.

*a memorable exception
5. Jamester
While I don't agree with you completely, I did think your post was great and made some good points. I myself am a reader of romantic suspense and much prefer it to a garden variety romance. What could be better, suspense and a hot love story all mixed into one? HOWEVER...some authors do a horrible job of this, as you pointed out. I just finished reading a book where the heroine's best friend was kidnapped (although she didn't know she was kidnapped, but she did know she was missing) and she was just having a good old time, living it up and having sex. I was thinking "Wow, glad you have your priorities straight". That book was a little hard to handle. I imagine sometimes though when the hero and heroine have escaped death and are plotting their next move, sex would be a good way to release the adrenaline and when your life is on the line who knows, may be your last chance! I think (in a well written RS book) that the suspense does not take away from the romance at all; if anything, it enhances it. Makes it stronger, more fiery and passionate. But of course this is just my opinion and I still agree that some are ridiculous and not done well at all. Honestly, for me, I have one genre that I call my favorite, but I give all books a chance. I read every genre, because you never know if that next book will turn out to be one of your favorites (even if it sounded like something you wouldn't ordinarily read). Anyway, great post!

Jamie @ Bookerella (
6. Vi
I used to read a whole bunch of romantic suspense. The peak for me was Suzanne Brockmann. Her Troubleshooters series was like crack for me. After waiting years and finally reading Sam and Lys' story, I slowly stopped reading RS. Maybe because I was burnt out and had read too many RS books. Also, some them can be so disturbing.

Or maybe because I started to read more paranormals which has a lot of RS in it. In the past year or so, I've become tired or paranormal romances. Again, because I've read so many.
So now, I am cautiously stepping back and enjoying books by Pamela Clare, HelenKay Dimon and Brockmann, of course.

Regarding the snagging, I generally skim or skip over them. Yeah, I get it: the adrenaline rush, the need to "re-affirm life," but for the most part I roll my eyes and move on.

I love suspense movies. Winter's Bone, Black Swan, Inception, The Town were some of the best movies in the past year. I also can't wait to see David Fincher's vision of the Stieg Larsson books.
Laura K. Curtis
7. LauraKCurtis
I love RS, but I prefer the "police procedural" type of RS to the paramilitary type. Of course, there are exceptions (like Brockmann--I'd basically read her grocery lists), but in general I think the police procedural type allows for a slower development of a relationship. Without the sexing-on-the-run.
Keira Gillett
8. Keira
I avoid RS more often than not for those very reasons. I like my shows tense and I like my books less so... must have to do with the time and effort put into the two tasks. A show lasts about an hour, heart thumping, twists, turns, gasps, etc. A book takes longer (at least for me) so I prefer for the most part to keep my S away from the R. lol
Lime Cello
9. Limecello
Okay - first off, I have to say I'm totally amused because I actually titled this "The Romantic Suspense Monster" - so when I first came to the site I didn't see my post :X Heh. Now then.

buriedbybooks - I'm torn on body counts bothering me or not. I mean I read all of LoTR, heck even the Chronicles of Narnia - the Black Cauldron books...
And you make a great point - I agree with you on time being a key factor. The books that take place over the course of a few days with the hero and heroine meeting only at the beginning of the book... well the romance factor isn't always convincing enough for me.
For the alley bit... maybe we're thinking something different? Like sure, hook up in an alley while there's still the general sense of danger. But *while* there's an assassin less than one tenth of a mile away from you? Really, badass characters? Or... is that what you were thinking too? I'd argue that war brides is/are something different.
Thanks for chatting with me :)

ka- Ah, yes, the "hitting too close to home" is a big factor, and then a lot of us just get mired in the details/distracted by inconsistencies or things that are "wrong." It yanks you out of what might otherwise be a very enjoyable book.
So glad you like Lori Foster and HelenKay Dimon's books. I'm hoping Lori's move back to Harlequin delivers some of that "old school goodness." I didn't think to mention Pamela Clare - book one in her I-Team series is one of my favorite romances ever. How nice you got to talk to them at RomCon!

Jamie - Thanks - and you're going to think I'm lying and insincere, but I'm not. Thank you for saying you disagree. It put a smile on my face.
And you make great points too. If it's what you like, action, suspense, love, sex - all in one package of sheer awesomeness? YES!
Your description made me giggle :X
I definitely agree with you that situations can make the development of a relationship "compressed" as it were. The whole trial by fire we lived a freaking lifetime in a week type deal. I'm 100% with you there. It's the non-sensical situations that get me. Like if you're so badass *why aren't you paying attention to your surroundings and keeping it in your pants so you notice the freaking gunman ten feet behind you?!?!!?"
Maybe I should finally admit to myself I like RS more than I say, because otherwise why would I feel so strongly about it?

Vi - I totally understand burnout. Sometimes there can be too much of a "good thing." I like paranormals and still read them, but I have to make sure they're interspersed with other genres. I think it's just... :X so many of them are so similar, you know?

As for the movies - I SO want to see Black Swan. I'd say that's almost more a psychological thriller though, isn't it? I definitely go for those movies. Have you seen the "original" Stieg Larsson book movies? Some people have suggested them, but I hear they're quite violent/disturbing.

Laura - Oh how interesting. Yes, police procedural I think allows for more time. It's just... how it is - so a bit like how buriedbybooks feels about romances. I'm with you on that part... but sometimes the police procedural stuff gets me. The things that "don't really have anything to do with the story but are wrong." Like... when someone is Mirandized. Almost always (I can't think of one that isn't) when a person is cuffed, s/he is Mirandized. Which makes me yell at the book "no! custodial interrogation! Custodial! Interrogation! Argh!" ... it's not pretty. And then I get all annoyed and huffy and have to take a break from the book. I know, I'm crazy. :X

Keira - Hee! I like the way you put that! And, I'm the same way. I dunno why but I can just tolerate/enjoy suspense more in a movie than a book. Maybe it's the sensory thing. I don't know. Also, it's *finished* you know? If you have to stop and start while reading a RS sometimes you lose a bit.
10. Lisa Richards
I love romantic suspense. My early reading experience had a lot of gothic romance in it , which really is RS. I think a lot of the enjoyment of ANY genre comes from disconnecting from reality for a while and allowing the writer to take you on a trip to the unknown. As long as she doesn't hit too many bumps that shake you out of this dream, I'll keep going on that ride.
Lisa Jackson's, James Patterson's, and even the Harry Potter and Twilight books can be grouped in this very broad category.
Lime Cello
11. Limecello
Lisa - agreed. I don't have a problem with as you said disconnecting from reality - e.g. quidditch - yes! But... it's the common sense things I think that get me. Like... "I know someone was killed here yesterday, and I have a violent stalker after me - possibly a murderer... and I know I have no self defense training and I shouldn't be going places alone in the dark, and I'm wearing stillettos and a really restrictive skirt, but it'll be okay if I go explore that dark alley. I'm sure it'll be fine." O_o Those circumstances break my brain.
Perhaps it's too easy to "shake me out of the dream" - I love your wording too. Thanks for stopping by :)
12. Tracy Y
I like RS, but like you, when it gets ridiculous, I want to throw the book across the room. Run, Sex, Run, Sex... Really? That's supposed to be believable?

Some authors make it work really well and I think they are, for the most part, authors who truly love writing RS. For those who are told they need to go down that road to sell more books - I think, "If it's not your cup of tea, please don't try to brew it."
Lime Cello
13. Limecello
Tracy - yay, thanks for coming back to comment! So glad it worked for you this time :) And... oh yes - I didn't even think to bring up the authors who are urged to try it/decide to tackle it for the money making aspect...
Obviously "write what you know" isn't 100% true to life but... there's definitely some truth/reason for it!
romance reader
14. bookstorecat
I wasn't able to post here yesterday because the site thought I was a spammer or something, so I am trying again for one reason--I used to read quite a lot of RS, but got away from it over the years. Never thought about why. BUT just today, I read a RS novel by one of those writers I used to read way back when.

I swear, I could barely make it through the thing. Here is what I've concluded about RS in general:

Usually the "suspense" part is completely forgettable--so what's the point of it? I've realized that I would rather any suspense in a romance come from the relationship at the center of the book, not from some contrived "they're out to get us" device.

Just my opinion, of course. I think for the foreseeable future, I am finished with anything remotely Romantic Suspense.
Lime Cello
15. Limecello
bookstorecat - thanks for coming back to comment! *kicks site on your behalf...* ... *hids from TPTB* ;)
Hm... true on my part the suspense isn't the memorable aspect, but personally I'm not a suspense reader so I don't know if that colors my experience. However, yes - book wise, I like the romance. And... suspense within the relationship is a wonderful thing! This! I miss the actual focus on developing the relationship. It seems it's missing from too many books these days, across all sub-genres.
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