by Steve Liskow
Happy belated Valentine's Day to everyone. In keeping with the spirit, let's talk about love.
When I started writing mysteries, I read several other writers who eventually wrote themselves into a problem. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that it was a problem until I made the same mistake, and now I'm finally working my way out of it.
Robert Parker, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Linda Barnes and Robert Crais all had their protagonists pursue relationships with lovers they met during various novels, and those couplings eventually caused the same problem: how do you give a lover who no longer influence the plot something worthwhile to do in your story?
Parker had Spenser meet Susan Silverman when she was involved in an early case, and their romance waxed and waned through the rest of the series. Susan left for training on the West Coast at one point and needed Spenser and Hawk to get her out of a jam in the following book, but for several books, her only link to the story is her psychiatric training that allowed her to help Spenser with varying degrees of success. If it weren't for the expert consulting angle, she could have disappeared.
Michael Connelly commented on his website that he doesn't plan very far ahead and that he wishes he had thought more carefully about some character choices. I suspect that Eleanor Wish heads his list of do-overs. She and Harry Bosch met in Connelly's first book and reunited several novels later. But after they married, she became less and less important except as the distaff side of a failing marriage. Now she's out of the picture and Harry is raising a teen-aged daughter alone.
Tess Gerritsen straddles that same line. Jane Rizzoli married Gabriel Dean, an FBI agent she met on a case, and now we see him for about five paragraphs per book, less than the average baby-daddy. At least he shares child-raising chores with Jane, but I wonder how long that will last. And Maura Isles, Jane's co-protagonist medical examiner, finally ended her own rocky romance.
I don't remember if Linda Barnes showed PI Carlotta Carlyle meeting Sam Gianelli, the son of a Mafia family, in an early book or whether they were already a couple when the series started. Either way, Sam has gained age and influence with his peer group and Carlotta, an ex-cop, is too much of an entangling alliance. The star-crossed lovers have gone their separate ways and Carlotta is looking more favorably on Mooney, the cop she's known from the very beginning.
Robert Crais introduced Lucy Chenier in the fifth Elvis Cole novel. Again, Lucy the lawyer was crucial for that story. Crais solved part of his problem by have Lucy, a divorcee with a young son, live in New Orleans while Cole worked in LA, so they talked on the phone but had little personal contact for the following books.
Then Lucy decided to move to LA, partly for a job, but mostly to be with Elvis. Unfortuantely, she could only give him so much legal advice without possible conflict of interest, and Crais finally ended their relationship in one of his best books, The Last Detective, where' Lucy's son is kidnapped while Elvis is taking care of him. There's lots of painful emotional fallout, and Lucy pulls the plug. She still gets cameo roles in later books, but Crais figured out that a romance doesn't fly unless both characters are on the plane.
I've learned that the hard way, too. Beth Shepard, AKA "Taliesyn Holroyd," was a client in Who Wrote the Book of Death? and she and Zach Barnes became lovers before that book ended.
So far, that intended one-off has grown to five books, but Beth has increasingly little to do. She does provide a major clue in my WIP when a character is reading a book she's written under her own name, but she never shows up in person in that story. I'm considering having her do research that leads to a crime and plot in a future book, but I don't know the topic...yet.
Dennis Lehane seems to be the only one who did it right, and I'm not sure he knew that at the time. Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro were working together as private investigators in Lehane's first book, and they already had a history, even though Patrick was divorced from Angie's sister and Angie's own marriage was beginning to trail smoke. Angie divorced in the second book and her relationship with Patrick has had more ups and downs than the Dow Jones average. The fourth and fifth books (my favorites) were especially painful. In Moonlight Mile, written over a decade later, Lehane gives the married couple closure.
Unless both halves of the team are actively involved in a case, there's a good chance the outsider is going to become excess baggage.
My "Woody" Guthrie books have learned from Zach and Beth. Megan Traine, Chris/Woody's girlfriend, is a computer wonk for the Detroit PD. She can contribute to the story and still bat her baby browns at the good guy.
How about you? Is a series romance turning into a serious problem?
20 February 2017
30 May 2014
by Dixon Hill
By Dixon Hill
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.
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?