About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Prejudice in Reading Romantic Suspense

RITA Award
While I read a variety of sub-genres of mysteries I have rarely ventured into romantic suspense. As was the situation with my last book, An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James, it is not usually a planned foray. I had decided to read all the books on the shortlist for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for the Best Canadian Mystery Novel and An Inquiry into Love and Death was on the list.

The previous book of romantic suspense I had read was In Plain Sight by Tara Taylor Quinn. I needed a book that involved the letter “Q” for the 2013 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise. I had also set myself a theme of having a personal connection to each post for the meme. In Plain Sight fitted my criteria by featuring lawyers.

Because of my infrequent reading in the sub-genre I have a limited knowledge of even what qualifies as romantic suspense. For guidance in the area I looked to the RITA Awards handed out by the RWA (Romance Writers of America).

The judging guidelines for the category of romantic suspense are:

In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, a suspense/mystery/thriller plot is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.

I have looked at the RITA award for romantic suspense for the last 10 years and I have not read any of them. I have not read any books by the award winning authors.

My primary reluctance in reading romantic suspense is the statement in the guidelines that “the love story is the main focus of the novel”. I want mysteries to focus on the mystery to be solved. When attention is concentrated on other subjects be it romance or violence or historical events I tend to lose interest.

Yet I have a prejudice against romantic suspense that cannot be explained by the focus of the story. It is a personal discomfort with romance being at the heart of the book. I am confident that I am not alone among males in finding myself ill at ease reading about romance.

Can our hearts be so dark that only noir is acceptable to the male? I say not as I am generally uncomfortable with strongly noir mysteries.

I believe I can relate to romance. I have been married for over three decades. Now it is entering treacherous territory to ask my wife if I am romantic. The word “romance” leaves men stumbling around verbally.

At least Canadian society when I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s strongly saw romance in books as effeminate. Not being masculine it was not reading for guys. I doubt it is much different in the current generation.

The guideline that the “resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic” is a further block for me. While few mysteries do not have a resolution that is “satisfying” in that the mystery is solved and the bad guy/gal apprehended I at least have the illusion in regular mysteries that the ending will be a surprise.

For a reader wanting to explore different sub-genres in mysteries I find myself facing my own biases. I feel I should read mysteries that are well written whether romantic suspense or conventional mysteries.

Mysteries have already been looked down up as formulaic. To be prejudiced against romance suspense is to personally reflect a prejudice against a part of a literary genre I love.

An Inquiry into Love and Death is a well written book. It should be considered as a candidate for the shortlist of best mystery novel. Romantic suspense is a worthy sub-genre.

Yet I doubt I am ready to add books of romantic suspense to my TBR piles. Justified or not my prejudices are going to continue to take me away from the book store shelves which contain romantic suspense. It will take a work of romantic suspense appearing on another shortlist for me to reading romantic suspense again. I am feeling very unromantic at the moment.


  1. I like the way you have thought this through Bill - but not all books are for everyone, and it is fair enough to decide a genre or sub-genre is not for you.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the kind words. As I grow older I try to think through opinions rather than just make snap reactions.

  2. I agree with Moira it's an excellent thought process you've gone through - and one I am in much personal agreement with.

    At least people don't expect men to like romantic suspense novels - when you're a woman and you don't like them (or straight romance either) you get some very odd looks let me tell you (or worse still people just assume you must like them and give them to you as presents - as annoying for me as the endless supply of tools my un-handyman other half received as gifts from his family for many years).. I try very hard not to sound or be judgemental about the genre - I genuinely don't feel my preferred one is better or more worthy or any of those things and I'm sure many romance and romantic suspense authors are terrifically talented - but, like you, that particular formula just doesn't engage me and it doesn't matter how many of them I read it's just not going to happen.

    1. Bernadette: Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful comment. I had not thought about women readers being looked at as strange because they are not interesting in romantic suspense or straight romance. I expect many of those who look askance at you for not wanting to read romance fiction who resent any readers of general fiction who look down at them for reading romance.

  3. Bill - I really respect your thought process in this. And as you've shown, it's perfectly possible to admit one's own biases (which we all have) and still see that book is well written (or isn't) whether or not one likes its sub-genre. To be honest, I'm not much of a one for romantic suspense myself. And like Bernadette, I've noticed that that violates some people's expectations of what I 'should' like. To me that reflects the larger society's view of what men and women are 'supposed to' like. And that's interesting in and of itself. In the end, this is one of the good things about crime fiction: it's a varied enough genre that no matter what one's preference, there's something in it to like.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am surprised with your breadth of reading that anyone should have expectations on what you "should" like. I had wondered about yourself and romantic suspense as I recall few examples in your posts that involve romantic suspense.

  4. This post and your previous review are very interesting. I am sure more males than females would object to romantic suspense, but I think there are plenty of females who are not interested either. I will accept some suspense with a little romance on the side, but I really prefer a sub-genre of mystery that has a basis for detection: police procedural, private detective, legal mystery, spy fiction. And there is plenty of room for variations on that. Sometimes I resent romance being thrown in at all, unless it can be integrated without taking me away from the main story.

  5. TracyK: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You express thoughts I wish I had included. Romance can be a detriment to a mystery.

  6. Bill, I enjoyed reading through your thoughtful observations on "romantic suspense" and particularly on the word "romance" that had me smiling. I don't think I've read novels where "the love story is the main focus" but I've read suspense where romance has been a major element, as in westerns and other fiction. I view the inclusion of a romantic angle in a strictly non-romantic story as the author's way to lighten the atmosphere, so to speak, perhaps aimed at an audience that might not be averse to a little romance between the pages. As for bias, as readers I think we are entitled to it; it falls in the realm of personal choice.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. I wish I could agree romance enters mysteries to lighten the atmosphere. I think it tends to heighten the tension if done well. I agree readers are certainly entitled to personal choice. I do try to expand my reading horizons.

  7. I agree with Tracy's comment and most of Bernadette's. I run for the hills at the thought of reading "romance" novels or even "romantic suspense." If I see them in a library of bookstore, I head the other direction.

    I don't mind if a few romantic moments occur or references to a romantic relationship are thrown into a plot, or even if a scarred or broken romance is the cause of a murder or two.
    But a book focused on romance! Nope! I could rant here but won't and I don't like cozies either.

    I find when male authors write about romance, it's often idealized and the women characters are very secondary or tertiary to a plot or else the women are objectified, not fully rounded people. If women refer to romantic partners, as Sara Paretsky does, V.I. Warshawski doesn't focus on it. She enjoys her male partners, misses them, talks to them, has wine with them and then it's left to readers' imagination.

    Donna Leon keeps most of the romance out of Guido Brunetti and Paola Falier's marriage, but their banter is great. They love each other and Guido thinks of growing old with Paola in a lovely way, etc. But romance is not a focus of the stories.

    Relationships are fine to discuss; they are complex. Sometimes they are part of a mystery.
    Or they're key to a protagonist, as are Annika Bengtzon's in Liza Marklund's series.

    I could go on and on about this topic. But if someone even gave me a romantic suspense novel, I'd give it to someone else as the thought gives me hives.

    And I'm not a lover of noir: the doom and gloom and body counts turn me off. But there are so many books to read that are neither genre, that I have a humongous TBR list and stacks of books here. And I'm constantly nudging the library to buy more global mysteries that I've read about -- and that they don't yet have. But I read about many that interest me.

    That's one thing about the Internet; it brings so many great books to our attention.

  8. Kathy D.: Thank you for a forthright and interesting comment. I always look forward to reading your thoughts. From the comments I have received the ladies I know through the internet who love mysteries do not love romantic suspense!

  9. The group of women who blog about crime fiction and who read each others' blogs and yours are very special indeed. I don't know if we all are typical readers. I think crime fiction readers would not like romantic suspense because we want to know about the murders, the investigation, the evidence, the motives, etc. We're serious crime fiction readers who
    follow a case as closely as Sherlock Holmes did. And we don't want diversions!

    Of all of my mystery reading friends, I know only one who likes romantic suspense -- and I
    wondered about this.

    I wonder if there are studies on this, like do women readers in the South like more romantic suspense? Or any other regions? Does educational level have anything to do with this?
    I'd really like to know.

    I cut my crime fiction reading teeth on Holmes, Nero Wolfe and Perry Mason, with a bit of Hercule Poirot thrown in and romance wasn't part of the plots.

  10. I did some reading on Wikipedia on this. Apparently, romance books are the highest selling genre, to my surprise, but of those, only 7% are considered romantic suspense. I don't think the group is crime fiction lovers, but rather romantic fiction lovers, but I'd like to see more statistics on this..

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the pair of interesting comments.

      Are women readers who like romantic suspense unfairly characterized as "non-serious" crime fiction readers?

      I appreciate your candour on why you do not like romantic suspense.

      Statistics can be enlightening. I am not sure where to look for the information you are interested in getting on romantic fiction.

  11. I found an entry on Wikipedia about "Romance" novels, apparently the highest-selling genre of fiction. Within that were some statistics on type of Romance novels, with romantic suspense making up 7% of readers of this genre.

    I think I should really think about who reads it. I don't want to be snobbish about it, but I wonder who likes it and if there are shared characteristics, like region of the country, those who work full-time or part-time or are at home. Also, what about women readers in Europe and elsewhere? What do they prefer to read in mysteries?