Please welcome Maine writer Susan Vaughan to Maine Crime Writers today. Susan has generously agreed to be our guest and talk a bit about the wonderful world of romantic suspense.
ROMANCING SUSPENSEFUL MAINE
By Susan Vaughan
I’d like to thank Kaitlyn Dunnett for inviting me. We go way back, to when she and Tess Gerritsen, with other writers, founded The Maine Chapter of the Romance Writers of America™. MERWA (http://mainerwa.com) is still a vibrant group, with 39 members. At the time of its founding, Kaitlyn and Tess wrote romantic suspense for Harlequin, which also published some of my romantic suspense novels.
Kaitlyn’s and Tess’s moves to other genres don’t constitute a great leap from romantic suspense. Mystery/crime novels and romantic suspense novels have stories in which lives are in jeopardy and in which the reader expects the villain(s) to be caught and/or killed. Both require strong characters with to carry the plot. Beyond that, readers can find wide variations in both.
So if the two genres have danger and villains, how is romantic suspense different from mystery/crime fiction? Get ready for sweeping generalizations.
In a mystery/crime novel, the detective–whether law enforcement, a private investigator, or an amateur sleuth–investigates a crime, usually murder. The focus is on the puzzle–whodunit, whydunit, howdunit. There may be other murders/crimes along the way to the solution, and the sleuth may face danger toward the end. Romance may be a minor or secondary part of the plot.
Romantic suspense novels are typically about preventing rather than solving a crime. The hero’s and heroine’s lives are in danger, and often also the lives of others they care about. Romantic suspense is emotional–surprise and fear and anticipated danger. The romance and suspense plots are so intertwined that if either was removed, the story would fall apart. Writers create endless variations on the percentage of romance to suspense and on the level of sensuality (read, sex).
To further confuse the issue, a mystery/crime novel can contain suspense, and a romantic suspense novel can contain mystery.
In my first romantic suspense for Harlequin, Dangerous Attraction, the heroine wants her name cleared in the death of her husband. The DEA agent hero goes undercover as the P.I. she hires so he can investigate the husband’s drug connections. Attempts are made on the heroine’s life as the hero is drawn to her, and the villain’s identity isn’t revealed until the climax on a Maine ski slope. The book has both mystery and suspense, and the romance plays an equal part in the story.
Sometimes in romantic suspense, the reader and even the characters know the villain’s identity, in which case the thrill is in the chase. MERWA member Joyce Lamb’s RITA-nominated True Shot is one such book. In this case, the heroine is the secret agent and the hero an ordinary citizen, a journalist from her hometown, caught up in the fast-paced chase. Because the heroine is wounded, the hero must learn fast to protect her from the rogue agents who want to use her talents.
In my book Primal Obsession, the reader knows the villain is stalking the heroine but the characters do not. My heroine, an investigative reporter covering a serial killer dubbed The Hunter, embarks on a canoe and camping trip to keep a promise to her murdered friend. When the killer follows her into the Maine woods, she and the guide must use wilderness skills to defeat him. The story contains mystery and suspense, detection and the chase.
MERWA member Pam Champagne’s latest release, Missing in Action, combines romantic suspense and mystery with the paranormal. The heroine’s psychic ability leads her in a search for her father, a pilot missing in action during the Vietnam War. The hero, a private investigator and former CIA agent, could be leading her to her father or into a trap set by other agents deep in the Vietnam jungle.
All things eventually end. In a mystery/crime novel, the villain is identified and either captured or killed in the exciting climax. In a romantic suspense novel, the suspense plot is concluded in much the same way, and the romance plot finds the hero and heroine achieving their happy ending. In both genres, drama, elements of the unknown, and anticipation of the showdown with evil keep readers turning pages. I read–no, devour both and can’t wait to pick up the next.
Probably one by a Maine writer.