Charlie Cochrane: Romance with a mystery twist or mystery with a romantic twist?

The cover of "Old Sins" - a wooden briefcase and a gun.

There’s more than one natural connection between romances and mysteries.

For a start, a number of authors have written both, under different pen names – for example, Agatha Christie/Mary Westmacott – or under the same name, such as Georgette Heyer. You could argue that the two genres have a similar basic story arc, in that the world is put wrong and then put right again, the tale finishing with a happy ever after or a villain being brought to justice, which is something that doesn’t always happen in real life. You also often get the two genres combined: the Dorothy L Sayers books Strong Poison, Have his Carcase and Gaudy Night are as much about Lord Peter Wimsey romancing Harriet Vane as they are about him solving murders. And every one of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael books features a standalone romance between a pair of the supporting characters, usually a feckless young man and a feisty young woman.

I reckon it’s a logical combination, as romance (or to use a wider term, relationships) and mystery form part of everyday life and intertwining them, if well done, can add veracity and depth to a story. It would be a pretty sterile sort of a crime book if nobody in it had any sort of a feeling for other people – often it’s emotions such as love, jealousy, unrequited passion or the like that are involved in the lead up to the crime. And likewise, it would be a fairly vapid sort of romance if there was no element of ‘mystery’ in its broadest sense. By which I mean things as simple as Does he or doesn’t he fancy me?  through Who was that person she was talking to and does it mean she’s having an affair? to some plot element like poison pen letters used as a means for the two main characters to get together, maybe by having something to fight against together.

But there’s a risk in combining romance and mystery into one tale. The author has to be clear in their mind which is the main genre and which the secondary, not least so that the book can be properly labelled and the reader aware of what they’re buying. Also, the two strands mustn’t get in the way of each other. Romantic scenes need to complement the crime story arc and not get in the way. I can’t be alone in having got frustrated with a crime book where the investigation and everything related to it got put on hold so that the two lead characters could have a love scene. More than once.

Good authors manage to weave the two together, for example by using scenes where the two lovers are alone together to move the mystery forward. This could be by having them include a discussion of clues, suspects and other relevant things amongst their murmured words of endearment. Obviously you can have the romantic couple directly involved with the case, as suspects, witnesses or as the detective and partner, but you always need to take care to avoid clichés. Too often we see the detective pleading with his or her love interest not to get tangled up with the murder investigation, advice which is roundly ignored, as a result of which their lives are put into danger – only for the detective to rush to their rescue. I admit I’ve used that myself (because as a trope it works if written with care) but you can’t use it every time or it becomes implausible.

And maybe that brings us to the key point for any mash-up of genres – or indeed for writing in general. Storylines have to be believable, set in a realistic world and with believable characters doing realistic things. Get those elements right and all the rest should follow. Or so we authors hope.

Charlie’s latest title is Old Sins. Available on Amazon now.

Old Sins

Detective Chief Inspector Robin Bright and his partner, deputy headteacher Adam Matthews, have just consigned their summer holiday to the photo album. It’s time to get back to the daily grind, and the biggest problem they’re expecting to face: their wedding plans. Then fate strikes—literally—with a bang.

Someone letting loose shots on the common, a murder designed to look like a suicide, and the return of a teacher who made Robin’s childhood hell all conspire to turn this into one of his trickiest cases yet.

Especially when somebody might be targeting their Newfoundland, Campbell. Robin is used to his and Adam’s lives being in danger, but this takes the—dog—biscuit.

About the author

A photo of Charlie Cochrane. She is smiling and has short hair.

Charlie Cochrane writes both romances and mysteries, including the Edwardian era Cambridge Fellows series, and the contemporary Lindenshaw Mysteries. Multi-published, she has titles with Carina, Riptide, Endeavour and Bold Strokes, among others.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie regularly appears at literary festivals and at reader and author conferences with The Deadly Dames.

Find out more on Charlie’s website and blog, and follow Charlie on Facebook and Twitter.

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