Friday, April 02, 2010


I was interested in Debbie’s post this week about romance in mysteries. I sat on a panel at Left Coast Crime in Denver, Colorado, two years ago (what a bizarre coincidence that I am writing this from Denver today!) to discuss that very subject.

I confessed, then, to being an incurable romantic myself, but I am not sure that “romance” is the word I would use to describe the tortured relations between most men and women. In a cliched writing world it seems like a word used to describe (mainly) female fantasies, where in that same world most male fantasies appear to be sexual.

Romance is certainly not the word I would use when discussing relations between the two protagonists in my China series - the (male) Chinese cop, and the (female) American pathologist.

What they have is a relationship - I don’t think anyone could call Margaret romantic!

The relationship between them is central to the series, although I never planned it that way. Two tortured souls came to together under extreme duress in the first book, finding comfort in each other - only to struggle against geography, culture, politics, and prejudice for the next five books. Two human beings who need each other, but find it almost impossible to make it work.

I get thousands of emails from readers around the world demanding to know when I will write the next Li/Margaret story. Not the next China thriller. Sure, they enjoy the ride (I hope) that the thriller takes them on, but the reason they keep coming back is an undying curiosity to know how the relationship will turn out in the end.

Sadly, I am afraid I have disappointed them by moving on to write other things without bringing closure to that question. Perhaps, when it comes to the question of relationships, romantic or otherwise, the only real closure comes with death, which generally would preclude the possibility of a happy ending.

So maybe it is better to leave the question unanswered, the outcome unresolved. That way the reader will always keep coming back for more.

• It is one week ago tomorrow that I dragged myself out of my bed at an ungodly hour to begin my two-month trek across America. It hardly seems possible that so much time has passed already. To date, I have posted four entries on my blog, which you can find here. Doubtless there will be many more to come. Keep me company and send me your comments. I am already suffering from the loneliness of the long distance writer!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

I think developing relationships in mystery novels adds to the depth of characterization.

Jacqueline Seewald

Rick Blechta said...


It's a pretty poor -- or shortlived -- series that doesn't bring something personal into the mix over the course of the stories. The only long-running and successful one I can think of that didn't do this was Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, but they were short stories for the most part.

For characters to be real, they have to have personal lives separate (but integrated) to the storyline, otherwise things get pretty stagnant, don't they?

peter_may said...

I agree with you both. The examination of a character's relationships, or lack of them, tell us so much more about them, providing depth and interest for the reader.