Mar 13 2013 3:30pm

We Love Them Like Crazy: Neurotic Heroes in Romance

Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory“You so crazy / I think I wanna have your baby”

—Salt-n-Pepa, “Whatta Man”

Salt-n-Pepa said it first, but I don’t think that they necessarily meant they wanted to procreate literally with men with some mental issues. But crazy guys need love too, don’t they?

Tony Shaloub as Monk surely needed someone to care for all those things he feared. Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets was so OCD he was compelled to make a certain waitress fall for him—and all his quirks. Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory has issues with touching. I think he’s a little OCD with ADHD with a little narcissist sprinkled in. Even Dexter needs someone to tame his Dark Passenger. I mean he really needs to find someone who can stick with him long enough to live through it. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man has severe autism, but still had time to flirt with his brother’s girlfriend. Even Bill Murray in What About Bob? has his own diagnosis for all the issues he claimed to have.

But the above list of men, while intriguing and worthy of affection, wouldn’t exactly make it onto the cover of a romance novel, would they? Imagine any of them shirtless with a sexy leading lady next to them and it’s just plain awkward. And that’s not based on their outward appearance; they’re extremely over the top characters, or really caricatures we can’t take seriously, shirtless or not. There are everyday Joes who struggle with their own neuroses. Some romance novels have been brave enough to showcase them.

The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole WhiteBarbara Claypole White’s The Unfinished Garden is a gorgeous tale about James, a man with severe OCD and the mother of all phobias, dirt. He can no longer live caged in his own mind of rituals and terror. At forty-five, he is independently wealthy and wanting a garden for his home. A garden may save him from a life of being a slave to his own psyche. He finds Tilly’s garden and he is drawn to it and her while the ticking clock in his head tells him to run and literally bathe in antibacterial soap. He’s also enamored with her son, Isaac. She’s a widow, alone raising a son, and it pulls at something deep within James.

James glanced up as a skein of geese flew over in textbook formation—an imperfect, imbalanced V with one side longer than the other. Symmetry soothes his fractured mind, but the lack of it…

James jerked around searching for a focal point, a diversion, anything.
Stop. Please, just stop. And a picture of Tilly dropped into his mind. She moved with the elegance of a prima ballerina…His insides were heaving with fear, and she made him smile. Her feet, poised for a pirouette, were so small, so vulnerable—so bare. Bare and dirty. And covered in soil. Soil on her feet, soil on her hands, soil she’d transferred to him. Soil poisoning her, poisoning him.

With an inner monologue like that you can see why it’s so hard being James.
Even after he throws tons of cash Tilly’s way, she can’t do it. Won’t. He’s persistent and keeps calling and showing up but it’s not something she can do. Especially when a family emergency sends her home to England, to assist her ailing mother.

How do you think a guy with OCD takes no for an answer? Do you think he’d let a little thing like an entire ocean stand in his way? He is obsessive compulsive, remember. James heads to England, on a plane filled with pesky germs. When he arrives, Tilly is taken back but not surprised, given his OCD. Her answer is still no. With all that’s on her shoulders she can’t be anyone’s landscaper now. James’ reaction surprises them both. He wants to help her. He lost his mother at a young age and empathizes with Isaac and the struggles Tilly has.

So Tilly agrees to give lessons in gardening to James while on the other side of the pond. His quirky ways help Tilly heal and deal with all she’s faced with. He has hopes of capturing her heart, if he can get his OCD under control and beat out the childhood fling for Tilly’s affection. James’ obsessive ways give him an advantage because he’s not about to give up on Tilly so easily. James gives a much needed contemporary face to OCD. Not some over the top character. He’s a hero in everyway, flaws, quirks, and all.

A Private Duel with Agent Gunn by Jillian StoneJillian Stone’s A Private Duel With Agent Gunn gives us an up close and personal look into the life of Scotland Yard Detective Phineas Gunn. And the only way to truly enjoy Stone’s heroes is to be up close and personal with these Ha cha cha hotties. They put the steam into Steampunk. Yum.

It’s 1887 and Detective Gunn is on the trail of anarchists. Problem is, he is prone to panic attacks, though the ailment wasn’t named as such at the time. It’s the result of what we now call PTSD. In the opening chapter he is in a carriage on a job.

Finn gulped for air. A band of tension squeezed his chest.
… Within the smothering confinement of the carriage, his heart rate accelerated. An intense wave of fear ripped through flesh and sinew—right down to his bones.

Damn it all.

His body was playing tricks again. It seemed nothing he could think or do could distract from this sudden assault on his nerves. He inhaled another deep breath and exhaled slowly, counting to ten. The shakes often came upon him without warning or obvious cause. Finn knew very well he sat safely within the confines of his coach, yet every fiber of his body told him he was being chased down a dark alley by a raving murderer, poised to thrust a blade in his back.

He was dying and there was no way to stop it.

All the symptoms were present this evening. Chest pain, shortness of breath, precipitous heart rate. The numbness and tingling were particularly bad.

Gunn is then thrust from this precarious position to the ballet, where he sees Cate, the girl who got away. And got away because her brother was one of the anarchists Gunn had hunted undercover.

Phineas Gunn is so sure in the face of the enemy, but Cate seems to bring on his attacks at the most inconvenient times. She’s a jewel thief, and a good one at that. He is a great detective. This leads to a steamy game of cat and mouse. If inhalers were available Finn would’ve blown through hundreds of them, no pun intended. Years of trying to keep the panic attacks at bay, different therapies from many doctors, Finn knows the tricks to keep going, to do his job. But Cate is his biggest adversary. This tough man who has seen death and destruction is so vulnerable in those moments when he literally feels like he is dying. Cate enrages, calms, and arouses him at every turn. This vulnerability makes him more endearing as a hero. He isn’t just another turn of the century detective. He’s real and really sexy to boot.

Simple Jess by Pamela MorsiThe following reads were also recommended to me:

Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess is a contemporary romance where the hero is literally deemed “simple” by his small town. The quiet, reluctant hero may not be the smartest man in the room but he can love.

Courtney Milan’s historical romance Trial By Desire has a bipolar hero who suffers from bouts of depression. He bravely faces his demons to win back the one that got away.

In Shelly Laurenston's Beast Behaving Badly, the hero is a highly organized introvert with a schedule to keep and a girl to win over in an organized scheduled fashion.

Who are your favorite neurotic heroes? Please list them in alphabetical order, color-coded for ease of use.


Philly native Charli Mac is an aspiring author, mother, wife, friend, and part-time clown. Come find lost love along the Jersey Shore at Twitter her @CharliMacs

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Jillian Stone
2. Jillian Stone
Love all these men. They remind me of this passage from George R. R. Martin:

Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid? ''That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him. –A Game of Thrones

You are the best, Charli!
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
I've read most of these books and enjoyed them. One point, Simple Jess is a historical, not a contemporary.
Jillian Stone
4. LibrarianJessi
Love Lord Ian in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. I also was a big fan of the hero who took douche-baggery to a knew level in When Beauty Tamed the Beast.
Jillian Stone
5. Acole
The Portrait by Megan Chance has a H with bipolar
6. Kareni
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie was the first book I thought of while reading this article. I've read a number of romances in which the hero suffers from PTSD; however, I'm currently blanking on the titles (so no alphabetical list, I'm afraid).

ETA: Okay, I thought of a few titles ~

Captive of Sin by Anne Campbell
England's Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch
Lord of Ice by Gaelen Foley
Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley
The Proposal by Mary Balogh
To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt
Robbie Thornton
7. Button
My number one crazy hero has to be Zarek in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter novel Dance with the Devil. He brings crazy sexy to a brand new level for me.

But the first book that sprang to mind I read many years ago. Laura Kinsale's Flowers in the Storm. The hero, Christian, actually suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage, effecting his speach patterns among other things. It's one of the most touching and memorable romances I've ever read.
K.M. Jackson
8. kwanawrites
Wonderful post you've given me lots to add to my reading list. Thanks.
Lege Artis
9. LegeArtis
Wow, great post.
I'll add to this amazing list few of my favs:
Peter Rabbit from Dani Alexander's Shattered Glass (mm)- he has mild form of Tourette's which manifests in nose twiching and rapid blinking when he's nervous. Interesting enough, he's taking care of his brother Kai who is bipolar and genius at the same time. Kai's book is next and I can't wait to read it. I think Kai is real challenge to write....
I also adore Didier from Cara McKenna's Curio- there is no spoiler function here, but everybody should read it, because book is unbelievably sexy....
Tim from Coleen McCullough's Tim- I never actually watched the movie, but I still remember book, becuase it's very emotional... Tim is mentally challenged.
Last year I read Song for Sophia from new author for me- Moriah Densley- because hero is autistic savant. Good read....
Jillian Stone
10. bclaypolewhite
I now have a TON of new books I'm desperate to read. Thanks, everyone!
Charli Mac
11. CharliMac
Yes, everyone is giving great recommendations! And sorry to Pamela Morsi for placing Simple Jess in the wrong genre. I've scolded said person who gave me the incorrect information. While I don't usually read the various romances named above, I truly love characters with issues to overcome. I think it's so real and humanizing. So, I'll be checking out many of these titles. Thanks to everyone who commented and to the authors I spotlighted.
Myretta Robens
12. Myretta
My favorite neurotic hero by far is Alistair Carsington from Loretta Chase's (yeah. What a surprise) Miss Wonderful. Alistair is obsessive about his (and everybody else's) clothing, leaving a dinner party in the midst of an ice storm because he doesn't have a change of clothes. Naturally, he is completely smitten with a woman who dresses terribly and can't keep her hair neat. A wonderful hero and a wonderful book.
Lindsay Beeson
13. lindsayb
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is my favorite.. in fact it's in my top ten for most favorite books ever. I never get sick of it. I also loved Kenyon's character Zarek and Conrad Wroth from Kresley Cole's Dark Needs at a Nights Edge. I love me some "crazy" characters.
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