Crime Fiction: How Much Romance? How Much Grit? What About the Christian Market?

She's Mine on sale for 99 2/18/15
She’s Mine on sale for 99 2/18/15

The very talented writer Tammy Doherty and moi have been gal-pals almost since we met online (more years ago than we’d like to admit) in the Northeast Zone Group of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). One of the things we’ve always done is kick around questions and idea. So, we decided, for Valentine’s Day, we’d like to put our usual ramblings into a blog article about how much romance and grit is too much in crime fiction, and what’s going on in the Christian crime fic market.

Free for Valentine's Day weekend
Free for Valentine’s Day weekend

Nike: I think in murder mysteries, thrillers, and romantic suspense getting the mix of romance and grit right is essential. In traditional murder mysteries, detective stories, and starker crime fiction, romance should be secondary to the mystery. The chase for the killer should be the main thing. When you get over into cozies, that’s a different thing, IMO. There can be a fair amount of romance, but of a gentle kind. In romantic suspense, the reader expects quite a bit of romance. I’m launching into a contemporary detective story series where the police procedure has to be right, and the investigation is the thing. Yet romance is there nudging its way in. HARMFUL INTENT, is the first in what I hope is a long “couples” series. Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels, private investigator and Deputy Sheriff Dawson Hughes solve a murder in Abilene, Texas. In the second novel, happenstance brings Ronnie and Dawson to solve a missing child case on the east coast. Later books in the series will have a different couple’s detective team.
Tammy: I agree with you, Nike. In a traditional murder mystery or suspense thriller, the crime must control the spotlight. But even in those stories, interaction between characters is what makes the story enjoyable to read. With Romantic Suspense, the very definition of the genre demands more than just interaction. At least two main characters must become romantically involved. Often, the suspense plot is what draws them together yet this isn’t enough. For the “romance” part of the title to apply, the hero and heroine must not only be drawn to each other but there must also be a genuine attraction worthy of long-term involvement. In other words, they need to fall in love. My new romantic suspener, gives them a common challenge to overcome. Still, once the suspense plot is resolved if there isn’t real romance and love remaining, the title fails. Later books in this series will feature other residents of Naultag, MA, the setting for SHE’S MINE, characters who will find love while facing and overcoming suspenseful conflicts. The key is in the balance: too little suspense and it’s just plain romance; too suspense will turn away the romance reader. So how much is too much grittiness?


Nike: I’m so glad you brought up grittiness. I was just thinking about that. I like realistic mysteries and detective stories. There’s nothing more disheartening than to read a story where the author hasn’t got a clue about police procedure and everything is pristine. To my mind, if there’s a murder scene depicted, it doesn’t have to be gory, but there has to be some grit, or I won’t believe it. Cozy mysteries are a different animal, they should be light on grit. In my novels, I like to rough up my main characters. I did that in my historical mystery series to several of my heroes and heroines. In HARMFUL INTENT, Ronnie practically gets the stuffing knocked out of her by one of the villains. She and Dawson will get worked over in book two. My novels have lots of action, twists and turns, romance, and some humor. My intent is that they will clearly depict good vs. evil, and yet uplift. I do have some grit, but I don’t write noir. I’d like to think I write grit with grace.

Tammy: Grit with grace, I like that! I’ve been toying with a tag-line for my writing and what I’ve come up with so far is “suspense you can fall in love with” or “romance that keeps you in suspense.” I think the second one sums it up best. In romantic suspense, the grit needs to be there but cannot overshadow the romance. I like romantic suspense with believable police and EMS procedural aspects, but because it’s romance there’s some leeway for literary license. In SHE’S MINE, I did the research to make sure all my fire scenes are accurate for this region. For example, my characters call for an ambulance not “a bus” as they might in a NYC. Bad things happen to Caitlin and Sean in this novel, what gets them through it all is the romance. The story is lighter than a straight mystery novel without being unrealistic or “fluff.” I like the interplay between your main characters but they’re still keeping it on the professional side. My characters delve into the romance aspect right away with the suspense being one of the obstacles to their happily-ever-after.
What I’m finding very interesting is the increase of crime/mystery fiction in the Christian market, particularly with the rise of Indie publishing. How people juxtapose their faith with the grittiness of this world makes for wide-open storytelling possibilities.
Nike: That’s a great line and it describes your work: “romance that keeps you in suspense.” You write romantic suspense. The romance is major in your stories, no doubt about it, but so is the suspense. That line says it. I also couldn’t decide between two tag lines, so I kept them both. I use the short one mostly, but do pop the longer one out now and then: “literature that reads like pulp fiction” also “I like my bad guys really bad, and my good guys smarter and better.”

What I’m noticing is more Christian men writing and what they’re writing is crime fiction and action-adventure. These are the two genres I like to read. Mostly the male writers such as Mark Young (who had a career as a police officer) get the police procedure right, and then there’s J. Mark Bertrand’s outstanding Roland March detective series. There are also women who are getting details about fire arms and fight scenes right. I’m proud to say, I’m thought to be one of them. I’m a research fanatic. I spend hours researching firearms and other weapons, tactics for a fight scene, and police procedure out in the field. But I’m not the only female Christian author writing technically correct gritty scenes. Luana Erlich (who leans more toward espionage) does this, so does Virginia Tenery. Tammy, you do, and there are others as well.

Celtic Cross now FREE
Celtic Cross now FREE

Since you are my guest, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that your outstanding western suspense novel CELTIC CROSS is going FREE this weekend and will be FREE from then on in.

Heart, Scroll

17 thoughts on “Crime Fiction: How Much Romance? How Much Grit? What About the Christian Market?

  1. I usually find that romance is put in as a third plot simply to help sell books; it never seems to add to the story – only distract the reader when it is necessary.


    1. GP, People are attracted to one another, and detectives can be too. The only way it works is if the attraction makes the detective vulnerable, and perhaps even causes him/her to become prey of the killer.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I have found some books are really just romance novels with a little “bad guy” action tossed in so the author can then say it is suspense. Not that it’s a bad book, but I like when the romance plot and the suspense plot are both fully developed and the overall story is dependent on each. With many secular novels, it’s not even romance tossed in, it’s just outright sex and you know it’s only there to sell. I lose respect for the author when that happens too often.


  2. It does irritate me when a book keeps going along like a cozy with a bit of romance tucked in, then all of a sudden near the end I run into a detailed love scene out of the blue. A book’s flavor is important. It shouldn’t pretend to be one thing when it’s not. The author needs to make up hers/his mind and keep to that path.


    1. Morgan, I agree completely. The kind of surprise I like is finding out the killer isn’t who I thought it was and it works. Not a surprise love scene that doesn’t work.


  3. Purists of mysteries and thriller novels feel that a romance is an interruption of the story. It is if it stands on its own. However I found it very useful in enhancing the characters’ profiles when the romance is incorporated into the events of the story.

    Also I would be interested in knowing what consitutes Christian mysteryies.

    Richard Brawer


    1. Richard, I’ve written four Christian mysteries (the Sanctuary Point series). They were set in the mid-1940s when a greater percentage of the population regularly attended church, so it was easy to incorporate Christian themes. For a work to be contemporary Christian literature for today’s Christian market it would have to have a bit of sermonizing. My Sanctuary Point series had just a bit of that. It’s main characters were committed Christians and mostly I had them talk like Christians really talk when they are together. Guess what, the subject of God often comes up. I knocked that type of conversation off when nonChristian characters were present, at the job, in restaurants and other public places. Somme times contemporary Christian novels for today’s Christian market has all the good guys Christian and the villain(s) non Christian. I didn’t do that in my historicals. There are some fairly despicable church going people in those novels. HARMFUL INTENT is not really Christian fiction, though I am Christian and I’m certain it has a Christian worldview. The MCs are not Christian, though they come from Christian families. They do not miraculously get “saved” by the end of the book, nor do they ride off into the sunset in romantic bliss by the ending. The state of their “romance” is taken up again in book two. In HARMFUL INTENT, I do have two very committed Christians, they happen to be my two comedic characters, who most find appealing.

      Richard, I checked out your blog…very nice looking. 🙂


  4. I consider my novels to be Christian and there is, in each one, talk about God. In my first novel, CELTIC CROSS, the heroine feels she can’t trust anyone, not even God. So naturally there are some scenes addressing that, but overall it is not preachy nor sermonizing. I’ve had loads of non-believers, or people who don’t have Christ as a focal point in their lives, read and enjoy all my novels. That would make another great blog post – how much “God talk” is too much, too little, and just right in Christian/Inspy fiction.


  5. Nike and Tammy–
    Thank you so much for this discussion. There have been times when I’ve thought of trying my hand at writing Christian fiction, but worried that my religious views would be found wanting. However, in this day of Indie Publishing, people with a slightly different view might be able to come forward.
    I thoroughly enjoyed HARMFUL INTENT and look forward to reading its sequels. And now I want to sample Tammy’s work, also. And I can’t wait to get my hands on the 1940s books.
    Oh–and thanks for mentioning other authors, too.
    How can I find time to write when there are so many delicious books out there all ready to be read? Oh, my.


    1. Lyn, I hope you write! Period! And write what you’re led to write. There is always a huge juggling act between writing and finding time to read. Then when you’re published, you have to market your novels and that eats up even more time. Then there’s real life.


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