The Call of Romantic Suspense
What quickens your heartbeat and piques your interest? Words like “mystery,” “thriller,” and “suspense” for sure. But add in romance and you have two novels in one, a sub-genre that has become increasingly popular.
The question is, why? And what, exactly, are the elements of great romantic suspense?
Traditionally, women were more likely to enjoy romance, while both men and women enjoyed mystery/suspense. Men, in particular, liked flat-out action thrillers like macho adventure or crime.
A terrific thriller wakes your adrenalin and brings excitement – but, like a roller coaster ride, how long will it stay with you? Will you remember the characters? Feel what they felt and continue to think about them? Maybe not. Action and crime will affect your character, but the real draw is characters going through struggle, and great romantic suspense adds emotion to stories that might otherwise be just entertainment.
Romantic Suspense Gives Us the “Feels”
In books, readers yearn for stories like Gaslight or Casablanca. In the former, the crime of who killed Paula’s aunt is puny compared to the terror we feel for Paula who must learn to stand up to her brute husband, and we root for the devoted police detective who will help her. And who really cares about the “letters of transit” machinations or evil clown collaborators in Casablanca? The real, desperate question is, what will happen in the Rick/Ilsa/Victor Lazlo love triangle?
Emotion wins. Maybe now more ever, because we live in anxious times. We want the adrenalin rush of a thriller but also want to feel reassured. We seek characters we can connect with who are going through fear and danger – but who also hope they’ve found someone who will help them. Who to trust? Will this new, attractive person in my life save or betray me? That’s the real wrench. And since most romantic suspense books have happy endings (as opposed to Literature with its tragedy), that’s a wonderful draw.
Reading, of course, has always meant escape. “You must stay drunk on reading so mundane reality can’t destroy you,” said Ray Bradbury. Surely there’s more to life than just paying the bills and doing the job and going to the supermarket. But with luck, we’ll find books which will lift us into the lives of characters we can root for who are going through struggle.
Picture this: a divorced, struggling woman finds that the orphaned teen nephew she lovingly raised has been accused of murder. Can’t be! The boy is good; frets about every sparrow caught in a downdraft. Along comes a handsome man, loosely connected to the case, who wants to help. The woman is attracted to him – but should she be? He has secrets and he’s troubled. She finds herself falling for him but pulls back, maybe starts to investigate him. Cat and mouse. The lady or the tiger. We hold our breaths because we find ourselves liking the guy. Fingers crossed for a happy ending, which we get because the story is romantic suspense. It makes us feel better, and who doesn’t need that?
Romance in a Modern World
But there’s more, and here’s where we return to that first question up there. Are people really just missing romance?
There have been two generations of cultural shift, and how impersonal “love” has become! The quick fling and then, in the morning: “What did you say your name is?” To many, the whole thing has become cold, disappointing, awful. Many report having given up on “dating,” even scorn the word but feel lost. There’s none of that rapturous yearning we hear about from the old days, the slower falling in love, getting to know each other first. How come Gen Y so-and-so goes from relationship to relationship, and his or her grandparents have been married fifty years and still cuddle and spoon? What have we lost?
It’s been decades of sexual confusion. Nowadays, a man might see a woman struggling with packages and really want to open the door for her, but he’s afraid of getting screamed at. Or a successful career woman might catch herself yearning for some brawny fellow to carry her across that deep puddle in the parking lot – after which sparks will fly – but it won’t happen or she thinks it won’t. Instead, those two people might privately feel sad and hollow, and seek comfort in romantic suspense. Key word, comfort after a wild ride. Nothing mushy; just a reboot for the adrenalin and a great, emotional ending that real life might not provide.
Then again, it might. Reading one fabulous story can change your whole outlook. Who needs shrinks when you have a book to lift your spirits?
About the Author
J.A. Schneider—Joyce —is a former writer at Newsweek whose most recent romantic suspense thriller is Cry to Me, which she wrote by battery lamp in a hurricane about terrified people using battery lamps in a hurricane.
She studied at the Sorbonne, was an exchange student in the Soviet Union where she got arrested for spreading anti-Soviet propaganda, and wound up in a Soviet hospital after falling down a ravine during a hike near Sochi. She thinks the Soviets were glad to see her leave.
She lives with her family in Connecticut, loves gardening, and is working on her next thriller.