Mystery novels witih a romance element
March 20, 2011 9:17 AM   Subscribe

It's a mystery, it's a romance: help me figure out what to read next.

I've been exploring genre fiction for the last little while, and have finally figured out what my sweet spot is: the kind of books expemplified by Julia Spencer-Fleming's mysteries. They're mysteries, but not especially complicated ones: I may not figure it out in advance, but after the book ends, I always understand what happened. In addition, there's a tortured or forbidden love that spans more than one book before the lovers can get together.

The writing should be at least competent. A character who is, like Clare Fergusson in Spencer-Fleming's books, a religious of some type is a pleasant bonus. The crimes should not be especially graphic.

All that said, it turns out the romance is a really important part of the enjoyment for me (I feel so shallow! But in a good way.). So hit me up with mystery series that have a romance element.
posted by not that girl to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe too far towards mystery than romance, but.. Elizabeth George's Lynley books?
posted by ansate at 9:30 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The writings of Ellis Peters including the Brother Cadfael series usually have an important romantic subplot along with the mystery.

As Cadfael is medieval monk, and the novels are charming rather than graphic, I'm guessing these will be worth checking out at least.
posted by philipy at 9:31 AM on March 20, 2011

I"m a big, big fan of Lisa Lutz's Spellman novels.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:36 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to read Rebecca.
posted by freshwater at 9:56 AM on March 20, 2011

Oh good lord, Dorothy Sayers. The romance runs, in order: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night (my favorite book of all time), and Busman's Honeymoon.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:01 AM on March 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

Seconding Dorothy Sayers. You might also enjoy Patricia Wentworth.
posted by Go Banana at 10:29 AM on March 20, 2011

If you like historical things too, definitely check out the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn (first book: Silent in the Grave). There's a Kindle bundle of the first three for $10, too, which is a great deal. They're Victorian romance-mysteries with a suitably feisty heroine and brooding hero, and the romance plot develops over several books.
posted by lysimache at 10:32 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try Suzanne Enoch's Samantha Jellicoe series. The relationship isn't quite tortured, but there's definitely a 'working out the romance' aspect of Sam's relationship with her billionaire boyfriend, and it plays out over all of the books. The dialogue is snappy, the sex is hot, and the rest of the writing doesn't get in the way of the plots.

Each novel has a major mystery, usually involving dead people, but not gruesomely dead people -- or if they are gruesomely dead, they get that way off-camera. Breaking into houses is described in loving detail, killing people is not.

I will add the caveat, given your preference for characters with a religious bent, that these people are very definitely not religious. They aren't married, they have mildly kinky sex and they swear rather a lot. I don't know how much those elements would ruin the books for you, but I figure you should know they're there.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:49 AM on March 20, 2011

Another thought, having just posted my previous thought, is Perri O'Shaugnessy's Nina Reilly series. Nina is a lawyer who ends up solving mysteries involving her clients and over the course of the series she has tortured relationships with a few different guys, but always comes back to the one main guy in order for their tortured relationship to play out more. Whereas Enoch's novels are about half romance / half mystery, the Reilly novels are about 3/4 mystery and 1/4 romance.

Again, these people are not religious, but there's less swearing and less explicit sex. The crimes can be a little more graphic than in the Jellicoe books, but they're still not hardcore violence by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:53 AM on March 20, 2011

My goodness, you need "Silver Pigs," the first in a long line of mysteries-with-a-side-of-romance set in ancient Rome and its empire.

Wise-cracking detective? Forbidden love? Not particularly gory murders? Historical settings? Fun but detailed writing that's a pleasure to read? Check. Marcus Didius Falco to the rescue!
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:54 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heartily seconding the Deanna Raybourn books, it's now the highlight of my book reading year when a new book in the series comes out.

The first three books of Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series are fantastic, plenty of mystery/romance (not super tortured romance, but oh my goodness Colin Hargreaves is just dreamy). The last couple of books in the series have been mediocre, but I have hopes that she'll get the magic back soon.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 10:58 AM on March 20, 2011

Response by poster: Mildly kinky sex is actually a bonus, jacquillynne! I just find that for some strange reason I have enjoyed a couple of different series with mystery-solving women ministers. Go figure.
posted by not that girl at 11:08 AM on March 20, 2011

Seconding the Tasha Alexander books (although I agree the last two haven't been as great). If you like them, a similar set of books with a Victorian steampunk edge is Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. I liked the first one a lot but am not as enthused about the rest.
posted by immlass at 11:26 AM on March 20, 2011

I think Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series has your name on it in large sparkly letters. She's a C of E vicar. There is a love interest for her, it's angsty and it's more than one book before they get together. The crimes aren't completely un-graphic, but don't involve torture (ever, as far as I remember) or sexual violence (again, I don't remember any, but couldn't swear to it). There is a strong mystical element and I find it can be difficult to work out what is going on, but the writing is very good and they are rewarding to read.

Go Banana thought you might like Wentworth - I think she's good, but I don't think the books meet your criterion around romance. Although there is always a romance, they are often not especially tortured or forbidden (except when one of the lovers is suspected of the murder), and they are not multi-book romances - the detective never has a romance (except in my world of Miss Silver - Frank Abbott slash).

The central books in Ngaio Marsh's books would also be worth you trying. There are single-book romances (as in Wentworth) in most of her novels but if you want tortured and forbidden multi-book you need to start with the one where Alleyn falls in love - Artists in Crime.
posted by paduasoy at 11:29 AM on March 20, 2011

And I meant to second the Falco novels. It is important to start with the first, as MonkeyToes implies. Lindsey Davis's writing is seriously good.
posted by paduasoy at 11:33 AM on March 20, 2011

This might seem like a crazy suggestion, but have you read the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris? Romance and mystery are a big focus of these books, and they can get a bit steamy (ahem). They're really fun. Give the first one a try, and I bet you'll love it (no matter what you think of the TV show, which isn't exactly like the books).
posted by bluedaisy at 12:05 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

P.B. Ryan's Nell Sweeney mysteries. They're out of print but you can try getting them through your library or read them as e-books.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2011

Also, the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. They're quite funny (although 'formulaic' is too kind for the most recent ones), and they are *heavy* on the romance (not too much explicit sex, though). I actually found the first couple a bit too graphic (some rape plots), but that element is gone in the later ones. There's a movie coming out later this year, maybe?

Seconding the Emily Ashton series. The first couple are terrific.
posted by lysimache at 2:18 PM on March 20, 2011

A suggestion from someone I talked about your question with - Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie series, starting with Case Histories. These are a bit too dark for me but they do meet your requirement of difficult romance. There are a couple of review that give a good sense of the books here and here.

Oh, and depending how genre-y you want to go there is the JD Robb "In Death" series. I've become a bit obsessed by these but I recognise others may not think the writing good enough to qualify - though can't see how one could not argue it's competent. The central romance goes on being angsty throughout the series. and the mysteries are not particularly difficult to understand, though the murders are graphic (torture / sexual assault etc). There are extracts from the books on Robb's website.
posted by paduasoy at 2:41 PM on March 20, 2011

Seconding Cadfael. It's not steamy at all, but they are good mysteries and they're historical. You always learn something.
posted by inturnaround at 2:47 PM on March 20, 2011

Elizabeth Peters! The Amelia Peabody series and especially the Vicky Bliss series (my personal favorite, featuring the art thief John Smythe). I believe John owes much to Peter Wimsey of the Sayers books mentioned above.
posted by lettersoflead at 3:06 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Ngaio Marsh's Alleyn books - they're the first ones I thought of when I read your question.
posted by clerestory at 3:28 PM on March 20, 2011

I love Elizabeth George but I don't think she's what you're looking for-complicated mysteries and inevitably, incredibly grim. Beautifully written, but man...
posted by purenitrous at 5:15 PM on March 20, 2011

Ooh, Barbara Michaels might be just the thing. She has some historical gothic romance/mysteries and some contemporary, and I enjoyed them all.
posted by Addlepated at 6:53 PM on March 20, 2011

Laurie R. King has all the elements you seek.

Also, Tana French.
posted by Violet Hour at 7:14 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I read Ruth Downie's Medicus a while back and loved it. I just picked up the next two titles for the beach. Roman doctor stationed with the Army in Britain, solving murders, and a slave girl who becomes his girlfriend (handled in a not-sleazy way).
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:12 PM on March 20, 2011

I love the Kat Colorado books by Karen Kijewski. Kat is a private investigator and she's investigating a case/mystery in each book. Each book is a complete book in and of itself, but her personal/love life evolves. I loved the character and the romance elements to the books. They're quick, absorbing reads.
posted by Kimberly at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2011

Response by poster: This is great--my library queue is topped up and I expect to get nothing at all done for some weeks to come. Thanks, everybody.
posted by not that girl at 9:41 AM on March 21, 2011

Barbara Michaels also writes as Elizabeth Peters. The Amelia Peabody books are beloved, but I like the Vicky Bliss books better. Both series feature light mystery, ongoing romance, and a sense of humor, and are some of my favorite comfort reads. (The Barbara Michaels books are also good, but tend to be darker).
posted by psycheslamp at 1:08 PM on March 21, 2011

Seconding: Cadfael, Kat Colorado, and early Stephanie Plum. I also like JD Robb's In Death series, but many of them are so graphic that I end up skimming scenes.

Also, check out the Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin, about a female doctor in 12th century England who specialises in post-mortem work. (Kind of like CSI: Historical, except way better than that sounds.) The first book, also called Mistress of the Art of Death, is one of my favourite reads of the last few years.

You may also enjoy CS Harris' Sebastian St Cyr historical mysteries. The author used to write romance novels, so the books have a definite romantic lean, though [mumble mumble spoiler] in the first few books. The later books bring a different and, to my mind, more enjoyable love interest.
posted by Georgina at 4:39 PM on March 21, 2011

Denise Swanson's Scumble River mystery series. Love them!
posted by SisterHavana at 12:08 AM on March 22, 2011

Mary Stewart is sometimes credited with inventing the genre of romantic suspense. One of her books takes place largely in a convent, but it's not her best. She is great, and you can often find her books quite cheaply at garage sales and the like, as they were incredibly popular in the 1950s and 60s, and have been reprinted several times since. Watch out for her Merlin books, though-- they're very good, but quite different than what I suspect you're looking for.
posted by dizziest at 7:12 AM on March 24, 2011

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