We should call it a draw. You tried to shoot me, I tried to poison you. As I said before Peabody, we are well matched.”
― Elizabeth Peters, The Curse of the Pharaohs
February is the month of love. Pink & red hearts everywhere you look. Perfect for readers of romance novels,
but for mystery lovers, not so much. After all, courtship & corpses don’t go together. Or do they?
While romance might not seem a likely component of a murder mystery—and there are those who feel strongly that it shouldn’t be—there are plenty of mystery novels with subplots involving the more tender feelings.
Both Miss Marple & Hercule Poirot have a soft spot for love, sometimes even taking up a case in order to rescue a young lover from suspicion. Then there are the detectives who find love in the course of investigation, as with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. And of course there are the passionate relationships that go off the rails and end in a crime of passion.
So maybe love and murder aren’t as far removed as it might seem at first glance, and sometimes it’s difficult to resist being swept up in the passion we find on the page, especially considering that some mysteries feature positively swoon-worthy characters.
(n.) a condition involving an irrevocable and passionate love for a fictional character
I’ll admit that I’ve had a few literary crushes, including one who, unfortunately, turned out to be the murderer. (We’re not going to look too closely at what that might say about me.) And while those purists who dislike romance in mystery novels insist it be relegated to the back burner, at the very least, I’ve come to realize that some of my favorite mysteries contain more than a hint of romance.
So if you’re in need of a new book boyfriend to get you through Valentine’s Day, here are five of my favorite mystery novels featuring romantic subplots.
“Or if this is a love story—and it is a love story, I swear—then why not begin with where I first caught sight of Ellie standing in the dark fir trees of Gipsy’s Acre?”
—Agatha Christie, Endless Night
Romance plays a part in many of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, and often the resolution of the mystery clears the way for the lovers to be together. Happily ever after.
But not always.
The narrator of Endless Night says right up front that this will be as much love story as mystery. In fact, it is well into the book that the first death finally occurs. On the surface, Endless Night is a love story between a lower-class boy and a poor little rich girl, but right from the start, there is an atmosphere of creeping menace, of something not quite right. In true Agatha Christie style, the ending turns everything you thought was true on its head.
“Stroll around and look sexy, ask annoying questions, in general get on everyone’s nerves. All those things that come naturally to you.”
― Janet Evanovich, One for the Money
Stephanie Plum is between a rock and a hard place. Unemployed and on the verge of being evicted from her apartment, she’ll do anything to avoid moving back in with her parents. Including taking a job working for her creepy cousin Vinny tracking down skips–people who have missed their court date and are now wanted by the law.
Unfortunately, her first assignment is Joe Morelli–a cop accused of murdering a witness. Even worse, Stephanie knows Morelli…um, personally.
The first three books of the Stephanie Plum series are my favorites. They are laugh-out-loud funny–seriously, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing when I listened to the audiobooks at work years ago. There are always fireworks of one kind or another with Stephanie & Morelli, making One for the Money a perfect Valentine’s read.
“The letter wasn’t at all in Milo’s style. He would have issued a much more elegant threat on vastly superior stationery.”
― Ashley Weaver, Murder at the Brightwell
Amory Ames is fed up with her husband Milo’s wandering ways, so when her ex-fiancé shows up asking for her help separating his younger sister from an unsuitable young man, it seems like the perfect time for a getaway. Unfortunately, there is more than romance going on at the Brightwell, and Amory soon finds herself neck deep in a murder investigation.
Ashley Weaver conjures the glamour of 1930s high society with skill, and reading one of her Amory Ames books always feels like a bit of a vacation for me.
I’ve really enjoyed the entire series so far, but this one may be my favorite. The complicated relationship between Amory & Milo is a lot of fun to read, and in spite of his roguish ways, Milo might be one of those literary crushes I mentioned.
“No woman really wants a man to carry her off; she only wants him to want to do it.”
― Elizabeth Peters, The Crocodile on the Sandbank
After spending her life tending to her widowed father, Amelia Peabody is finally setting off on the adventure she’s always dreamed of—seeing the places she’s only read about in books. While touring Rome, she rescues another young Englishwoman who has been abandoned there by her lover. The two travel on together to Cairo, where they fall in with a pair of archaeologists, the Emerson brothers, and join them at their dig.
Amelia finds that she enjoys the archaeological life, especially when she’s trading insults with the older Emerson brother, who resents the intrusion of women on his site. Women are the least of Emerson’s worries, however, when their camp is visited by another uninvited guest—a mummy that seems intent on doing harm to someone in their party.
This is possibly my favorite mystery series ever. Amelia is hilarious—always sure of herself and charging headlong into danger armed with her trusty parasol. The cast of characters grows throughout the series, which spans a period from the 1880s to the 1920s, with no shortage of romantic entanglements. If you’re looking for a book boyfriend, keep your eye on Amelia’s son Ramses, who grows from frighteningly precocious boy to brooding man over the length of the series.
“Less than a year ago, my life had been so simple. I had a nice little freelance design business going. I was marrying a man I thought I loved. And then—poof. Ghosts in my kitchen and ramen for breakfast.”
― Angie Fox, Southern Spirits
Verity Long is having a hard enough time keeping it together–after jilting her hometown’s golden boy on their wedding day (with good reason), she’s been forced to sell the contents of her family home to pay back her fiancé’s family for the wedding that never happened, and the house is next. The last thing she needs is to unknowingly tether herself to a ghost and draw the attention of the golden boy’s cop brother.
Southern Spirits is the first in the Souther Ghost Hunter series—entertaining stories about Verity and her ghost sidekick, who helps her see spirits and right wrongs both new and old.
How about you? Do you like a little romance mixed in with
your mystery, or do you prefer to leave love to the romance
novels? If you’re okay with a little romance, what are your
favorite mystery novels that feature love stories?