30 May 2014

The Romance of Mystery

There is something innately romantic about a well-wrung mystery, isn’t there?

The intriguing allure of Character entwined with Occurrence, sensuously dancing across the tight-sprung terrain of Setting.

The syncopated gyrations of Crime and Motivation bumping against the carefully mitered couple of Puzzle and Solution . . .


. . . while Suspects and Red Herrings crowd the dance floor or sit this one out.

And, through it all, a Question.

A Quest.

To find some Truth or McGuffin that rented the ball room or cheap dance hall, arranged a rave in an empty warehouse—or perhaps just switched on an inexpensive stereo, in a living room with a small space cleared—and called the dancers together.

 It called a time and place, to set all in rhythmic motion.

To me, there is no question about the presence of romance in mystery.

But, is there room for Romance in Mystery, one genre enfolded in another? That’s the question that strikes me, today.

Why? It’s been running in the low hundreds over the past few days. The true heat of summer still waits in the wings, but there can be no question that the short, pleasant, breezy days of balm we call Springtime here in the desert are over. I love the heat of summer, in a painful way I can’t explain. But, during this transitional crux, crossing Summer’s threshold as it were, I miss the biting chill of dark morning, before the rising sun can burn it off.

And this has me thinking Spring thoughts, about Romance sub-plots in Mysteries. Be they short stories, novels, stage plays, radio plays or movies, how often do mysteries seem to contain an element of romance? Does romantic entanglement belong there, or not? Does it work sometimes? Why or why not? Is there some arcane secret formula that allows a writer to skirt the problem of the romance of the Romance clashing with the romance of the Mystery? If so—what is it? And, why and how does it work? These questions and more rebound against the walls of my mind.

All my answers elicit more questions, which thicken the horde of swirling, gnashing unknowns.

Which leaves me asking you, Dear Reader: What are your thoughts on the subject?



  1. Whoo-hooo, Dixon. As soon as I saw your article, I thought of a ballroom dancing novel by one of my favorite mystery writers, John Lutz. And then John Mortimer slipped a dance number into a Rumpole story.

    My friend Deborah seduced me into watching Dancing with the Stars by promising not-quite-dressed women. Personally, I dance more awkwardly than Godzilla, but I appreciate how beautifully women move.

    Clearly the RWA believes in ‘romance with mystery elements’ and yes, I believe in ‘mystery with romance elements’. In fact, I’ve written a short story I haven’t managed to sell yet titled ‘Nobody Loves a Woman Cop’. One of these days…

  2. "Nobody Loves a Woman Cop" -- that's a great title, Leigh. I'll bet the story rocks!


  3. Dixon, I like a little romance in mystery and/or thriller, but I just received an email from my agent that he doesn't especially like the romance in my latest effort though he does say that he believes that's just a personal opinion.

    I personally read lots of "escape" mysteries by Sandra Brown, Jeffrey Deaver, and Stuart Woods. Those three definitely spice up their mysteries with a healthy addition romance and/or lust. Though not mystery, Stephen King has some beautiful love relationships in some of his stories. I especially like the relationship between the older man and woman in INSOMNIA.

    Glad you and Leigh have romance and dancing related in your minds. When I think of dancing, I think of two country songs. Put them together and you get "Dancing in the Kitchen" "With Nothing on but the Radio."

  4. The photos alone suggest an interesting mystery!

  5. Since I'm a shrink as well as a writer, it's no surprise that I find nothing as interesting as human relationships. I want them to be part of every novel I read. Whether romantic or love relationships work depends on the people, the conflicts, the arc of the story. As both reader and writer, I want them to be organic, not gratuitous. In short stories, I'm less likely to put in romance. There's less room for it, so it would really have to serve the plot.

  6. Fran, I’m sorry to hear your agent doesn’t like that particular romance angle. I hope he’s made constructive suggestions, instead of rejecting the entire project; your writing is too good to be prevented from publication. So, keep the faith, sister!

    On the other hand, your comments, coupled with Leigh’s, lead me to believe that — should present trends continue — Dancing With the Stars might be replaced in the relatively-near future by the new hit hidden-camera television series: Dancing in the Kitchen!

    Meanwhile, Leigh, you should know that my daughter calls me "The Dancing Bear," which gives an idea of my clod-hopping skills -- or lack thereof.

    Janice, I agree with you — though, exactly what that mystery is, is a complete enigma that eludes me! LOL

    Elizabeth: I thank you. Your points, that the successful romance element of a mystery should serve the plot in a an organic manner clearly dependent on characters, conflict, and story arc, are very helpful and have set me to thinking deeply—something my wife may not thank you for, the third or fourth time she has to snap her fingers in front of my nose to get my attention, this evening.

    Which is okay. Because, when she asks (as is her habit), “Are you ever going to tell me what you’re thinking about?” I’ll try to explain it, though my thoughts will still be ragged and only partially formed. This verbal explanation almost invariably helps me find a way to firm-up and flesh-out the concepts in question, so it’s quite helpful! Perhaps that’s why so many writers have the detective achieve some sort of epiphany when speaking to a partner or spouse?

  7. I have to confess I don't read many mysteries (ducking the flying shoes now...), but I find myself ruminating on the ones I've seen on film, now that you ask. It seems to me there was a romance element, even if it was all smouldering eyes and innuendo, in many of the mysteries they filmed in the 40s and 50s. More recently, and less like musk than a light afternoon cologne, there were television programs ranging from the original Avengers to Remington Steele that presented mystery stories in a setting that was draped with romantic attraction. Indeed, the dancers in your photos reminded me of some of those two-steps. So I'd vote "aye" on the thing and suggest Fran tell her agent maybe he needs to get a little more spice in his life so he can stop being a curmudgeon. :-)

  8. In response to my offer to "tone down" the romance, the agent responded this afternoon that he doesn't want me to change anything, just wants to talk about how to pitch it. I told him to pitch it as the next Amityville Horror. At least he didn't reply, "In your dreams, Fran." Said we'll talk about it next week.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Okay, my last comment posted twice and I don't know how to delete the second one. Must be one of these ghosts or demons I've been dealing with in this book. BTW, next one is a new cozyesque which I hope will turn into a series. Wish me luck as I do all of you.

  11. Got rid of that pesky second posting for you, Fran, and don't feel like the Lone Ranger -- those things seem to be an intermittent problem all on their own; no human help required. lol

    Glad to hear the good news about your horror novel. And I can't wait to hear about this new "cozyesque" series of yours!


  12. I'm not a mystery writer but no matter the genre, if the story is written well, how could the addition of romance on any level be wrong? I love when my heart pitter patters....

  13. Well, C.S., intrinsically, I agree with you. And I’ve certainly read such cross-genre pieces, in which the Romance complimented the Mystery and/or vice-versa. However, I've unfortunately also read many cross-genre pieces, mixing Romance with Mystery, in which the romance of the Romance did indeed clash with the romance of the Mystery, and these tales failed badly imho.

    I suspect the reason for this failure may be rooted in the authors’ failure to consider points such as those outlined by Elizabeth, in her comment above.

    Having ruminated rather extensively about this subject, both before and since my last Friday post, I have recently become rather convinced that success or failure in this genre-mixing is closely related to something I would call “genre resonance” and its resultant “amplitude modulation,” concepts I plan to discuss, in this specific context, in my upcoming post on June 13th.

    I both encourage and invite you to tune-in on Friday the Thirteenth (an otherwise inauspicious day, it would seem), as I’d love to get your views on my ideas.

    And, thank you for commenting on this post. Your views are most welcome, and it’s very nice to see a new face here.

  14. Thanks for the invitation, Dixon! Your article for the thirteenth sounds like a learning experience to me--I'll be there!

  15. Gotta say, C.S., I always think of it as a two-way street. No question that I wind up learning far more than I ever share, on this blog site.



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