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Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Place of Romance in Mystery by Debbie Young

Debbie Young - Angela Fitch Photograph
In every mystery story I write, there’s a generous helping of romance, in common with many mysteries at the lighter end of the spectrum.

The precedent was set during the Golden Age of Crime-writing. Many of Agatha Christie’s stories require crimes to be solved to reunite lovers parted by accusation and arrest. In Dorothy L Sayers’ Strong Poison, when Lord Peter Wimsey falls in love with Harriet Vane at her trial for poisoning her ex-lover, he must prove her innocence before her date with the noose.

Cover by Rachel Lawston
Lawston Design
In my own novels, the romances aren’t necessarily key to the central mystery, but they are an integral part of the story and its world. The love affair between Sophie and her bookseller boss Hector Munro has its own plot arc running the course of the whole Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series. In Murder in the Manger, the series’ Christmas special, when village shopkeeper Carol Barker confesses her loneliness, Sophie vows to find her a boyfriend, and the resulting relationship develops in the sequel, Murder by the Book.

While the “will they, won’t they?” feeling is a good reason for the reader to keep turning the pages, besides wanting to solve the mystery, perhaps the most important function of romance in mystery novels is to provide comfort and warmth to restore the reader’s spirits after the shock of cold-hearted crimes. It also adds point to the more poignant moments, such as accentuating the sense of loss at a murder.

Cover by Rachel Lawston
of Lawston Design
The strength of the romance in my novels, in tandem with a generous helping of comedy, has led fellow novelist Rosalind Minett to describe them as “feel-good murders”. That might sound like a contradiction in terms, but I believe a murder mystery can and should be life-affirming. Don’t we all want to believe that all will be well, and that justice will prevail, even in our darkest days?

But I don’t weigh up the balance of mystery, romance and comedy as I go along, as if mixing a sponge-cake recipe. I use them instinctively, as a natural extension of my upbringing and personality. Coming from a close-knit, quick-witted, optimistic family, in my household never a day goes by without hugs and laughs. My parents have just this week celebrated their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary. I’m lucky to have been raised to regard happy endings and true love as ideal and achievable. And in my mystery novels, unlike real life, I have the unassailable power to deliver both.
Debbe Young's Sophie Sayers Mysteries
Covers by Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design
Debbie Young lives and writes in a Victorian cottage in  a small village community in the beautiful English Cotswolds, full of eccentric characters and lively events to inspire her cozy mystery novels. Her Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, currently standing at five books, will on completion run the course of a village year from one summer to the next.

Flat Chance, the first in
Debbie Young's new series,
 will be published in the summer
Her Staffroom at St Bride's series will follow the intrigues of the teachers at a traditional British boarding school for girls, and the first in the series, Flat Chance, will be launched this summer.

She also writes short stories and has published three themed collections. She is founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, a frequent speaker at literary events around the country, co-presenter of BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Book Club, and UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Twitter: @DebbieYoungBN

5 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Debbie, had to laugh at the "feel good murders" description of your books by Rosalind Minett. To me, your covers convey that message.

Sarah Raplee said...

I enjoyed your analysis of romance subplots in mysteries. I've always preferred cozy mysteries, partly because of the romance subplots that are often included. Yours sound like fun!

Paty Jager said...

Hi Debbie, I agree even though we are writing mysteries, you need romance because people in real life have romance, bad days, good day, friends and enemies. Our characters need to "feel" real for the readers to want to follow the series. You hit on a couple things I'm mentioning later in the month. Great post!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Lovely post, Debbie. I enjoy a little romance with my mysteries, will need to check out your books. :-)

Maggie Lynch said...

Like others here, I chuckled at the "feel good murder mysteries." It is why I prefer cozies to dark thrillers when reading mysteries. I also noted something I think speaks to romance in general when included in other genres. You said: "The most important function of romance in mystery novels is to provide comfort and warmth to restore the reader’s spirits after the shock of cold-hearted crimes. It also adds point to the more poignant moments, such as accentuating the sense of loss at a murder."

That statement is so true. If the genre is character driven, one can't help but include critical relationships--whether that is romance, best friend, or family members. The reason I don't read most police procedurals is that the emphasis is on the procedure for solving the mystery/crime rather than the impact on the characters. For me, without my heart bing involved with the characters I'm just not interested--no matter how much of an intellectual puzzle is presented.

Great article, Debbie. Thanks for sharing it with the readers of RTG.