Mystery with a Bit of Romance

I recently listened to Elizabeth Peters’ first Amelia Peabody book Crocodile on the Sandbank for an audiobooks review here at AAR. I was reminded of one of my early posts at the original After Hours site, in which I talked about my favorite couples in mysteries. Some of the authors I originally discussed have stopped writing their series (Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain mysteries and Gillian Roberts’ Amanda Pepper mysteries, for example). And as much as I love Elizabeth Peters, her last Amelia Peabody, A River in the Sky, was not one of my favorite reads. A few of the other series I discussed (Carolyn Hart’s Annie Darling mysteries and Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schulz mysteries) are now just hit-or-miss for me.

However, over the past few years I’ve discovered a number of other mystery series that show promise. While the romance threads vary in intensity and emphasis across the series, I still find them all enjoyable.

Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series. I gave DIK status to And Only to Deceive, the first entry in this Victorian era series. When the series begins, Emily is a recent widow, and comes to learn more about, and fall in love with, her husband by reading his letters. Emily also meets the man who will eventually become her second husband in this book. The books have a variety of settings, including Paris, the south of France, Vienna, Constantinople, and Santorini. Emily is an intelligent heroine who studies the classics. She’s also gradually become involved with her new husbands’ investigations. I like the relationship that has developed between the two, and can recommend the series to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries. I think the series will particularly appeal to fans of Deanna Raybourne’s Lady Julia series. The sixth book in the series, A Crimson Warning, comes out in late October.

Deborah Crombie’s Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series. I have a rather strange history with this series set in contemporary London. I read one of the very early books in the series, liked it, and then forgot about it. Last month my book group read Necessary as Blood, the 13th and most recent in the series. I was reminded of how very much I like the characters in the series. Gemma and Duncan have come a long way since the first book I read. They’ve cobbled together a family and are engaged when the book begins. A few people in my book group had read all of the series entries and said that the relationship develops slowly over the course of the series. The murders in this entry are quite dark but Gemma and Duncan’s relationship was in the forefront. I liked where the characters are so much in this one that I probably will not go back and read the previous entries. Everyone in my book group agreed that the latest entry works very well as a standalone.

Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series. This series is set in 1930s England, and features Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, or Lady Georgie as she’s more frequently called. Georgie is 34th in line to the English throne, but is flat broke. Her brother, a Duke in Scotland, has cut off her allowance. Rather than live in the castle in Scotland, Georgie escapes to the family’s home in London, and scrapes by doing various odd jobs. The first three books took place primarily in London, but in the fourth book, Georgie ended up attended a wedding in Bavaria. Georgie’s a favorite of the Queen, who alternately tries to marry her off and send her on various missions. Georgie has a slowly developing relationship with the mysterious Darcy O’Mara. Is he just a penniless Irishman, a thief, or a spy? I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Georgie and Darcy’s relationship, but I intend to pick up the fifth book in the series, Naughty in Nice, when it comes out in early September.

Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy series. I’ve recently started reading this series, set in 1901 New York. In the first book, Murphy’s Law, Molly Murphy accidentally kills a wealthy Irish landowner and escapes before anyone discovers the act. She first ends up in England, and then quickly is on her way to New York City. Molly gets as far as Ellis Island where she becomes embroiled in another mystery and meets Captain Daniel Sullivan of the NYPD. I recently attended a signing for the 10th book in the series, Bless the Bride, so know that Molly and Daniel’s relationship goes a long way after the first book. I look forward to reading more books in the series.

Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire mysteries. My book group recently read the third in this series, False Mermaid, featuring American pathologist Nora Gavin and Irish archeologist Cormac Maguire. While the first two books are set in Ireland, the third is set partly in both Minnesota (Nora’s original home) and Ireland. These are contemporary mysteries with a strong historical influence. While Nora and Cormac are physically apart for much of the third book, there’s still a sense of their relationship, particularly toward the end of the book.

Do you read any mystery series? If so, have you encountered any new – or new to you – series with a strong romantic element?

- LinnieGayl Kimmel

29 thoughts on “Mystery with a Bit of Romance

  1. I read mysteries sparingly, and went off them a year or two ago, but I suppose I’ll return to them soon. Though the Sookie Stackhouse craze drove me far away from that series, I must admit I’m still a fan of Charlaine Harris’ Lily Bard and Harper Connelly series.

    Mysteries are a nice diversion, but I find they don’t have the heart and soul of a good romance.

  2. I love mysteries with a bit of romance. The Royal Spyness series, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series are great. Thanks for the other recommendations.

    I am really enjoying C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries (starts with What Angels Fear). They are set in London in 1811 – 1812. Along with the mystery in each story, there is an over-arching plot regarding Sebastian’s personal life running through the books (to say more would spoil the fun). These stories are a lot darker than the ones listed above, but I find them very compelling reads. The most recent book is Where Shadows Dance and I understand that the next one will be out in early 2012.

  3. I really enjoyed the Loon Lake Mysteries by Victoria Houston. The first one is Dead Angler. Paul Osborne is a local dentis. She (Lew Ferris) is the local chief of police. Together with a band of rather wacky friends they solve lots of off beat crimes in the North Woods of Wisconsin. I normally don’t like fishing or wacky but these stories are wonderful cozies.

    The Constable Evans mysteries are my favorite novels by Rhys Bowen. The first book is Evans Above. There is a sweet love story between Evans and Bronywen, the local school teacher. Each book moves the romance forward a bit.

    The Ellie Haskell Mysteries by Dorothy Cannell are good too. They start with the Thin Woman and have the same love interests through out.

    maggie b.

  4. I agree with SON, The Lily Bard “Shakespeare” Series, starting with SHAKESPEARE’S LANDLORD is a (complete) 5 book series by Charlaine Harris. I liked these much better than the Sookie books.

    I think Ashley Gardner (Jennifer Ashley) has a wonderful historical series- and perhaps her best writing ever- featuring hero Captain Lacey. It starts with The Hanover Square Affair. Right now they’re all at low prices for Kindle with a new novella just out and a full length story coming this Fall.

    G M Malliet wrote the St. Just mystery books, starting with DEATH AT THE ALMA MATER. Her lead protagonist is not the ususal romance hero and the mysteries are great. The prices — not so much — but worth it, I think.

    Highly recommended, can’t say enough about it, squeeing like a fangirl, is Ice Blue (The Lord and Lady Hetheridge Series). Right now it’s 99 cents on Kindle and was a happy find when I went looking for a new romantic mystery. I can only hope the next book in the series holds up as well as the first book.

    Love this topic!

  5. I’m a fan of all the series mentioned in the post except for Erin Hart simply because I’ve never read her. (Heading over to Amazon after I post my comment to look her up.) I’d add three other mystery series with strong romantic elements:

    The Bennie Harper series by Earlene Fowler–I adore this series and almost didn’t try it due to the quilt theme which is really quite minor most of the time and is lovely when it isn’t despite my initial trepidation. But Bennie and Gabe are awesome. They marry after the first book but the journey of their marriage–especially after Bennie’s successful first marriage which ended with her husband’s death–is wonderful. And some of the mysteries are rather unique, too. Start at the beginning but don’t miss Steps to the Altar which about a severe crisis in their marriage while the romances of many secondary characters are coming to fruition.

    Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series–this one is rather like Crombie’s in which the relationship is very slow, barely hinted at in early books but you can start the series at “Slow Dollar” where her marital relationship begins with an odd proposal and then just sit back and enjoy.

    The Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries by Julia Spencer-Fleming are already very popular among romance readers and deservedly so.

    The series has stalled, but I also love the Catherine Levendeur Mysteries by Sharan Newman. They are historical and rich with a fun relationship, too. Newman has gone off to make more money writing about The Da Vinci Code stuff as a scholar but I wish she would return to this series that was an auto buy for several years for me, too. That one should be started at the beginning with Death Comes as Epiphany.

  6. Sorry, nother post. I also endorse P. B. Ryan’s Nell Sweeney series. It grew weaker near the end although an HEA is achieved but the first book was great and made the later ones more than acceptable despite the loss of the richness of language and setting.

    I would have loved to add Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries, but alas, I have given it up after hoping the stalled relationship would go somewhere after a promising beginning with some swoony moments in the early series. The main characters are too much in love and too independently thinking despite their historical setting to not get together. They are no longer believable to me.

    I also used to enjoy Robin Paige’s series and Carole Nelson Douglas’s Irene/Penelope series–the two heroines, not a couple. :)

    And there are always the classics like Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane from Dorothy Sayers and Tommy and Tuppence from Agatha Christie.

    Can you tell I adore mystery series with a romantic element? They allow for a deeper exploration of the relationship over time unlike any other genre in my experience.

  7. Maisie Dobbs. I can’t believe I didn’t mention her but she is THE BEST. Absolutely love her.

  8. I love mystery series with a romantic story arc. A recent discovery is Elly Griffith’s series featuring forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway. I’ll add a caveat to this recommendation as it may offend some romance fans: it includes an extramarital fling.

    A series I adore is P.B. Ryan’s Gilded Age mysteries. She recently released them as ebooks. The series begins with ‘Still Life with Murder’.

    Lori Armstrong’s Julie Collins mysteries are also seriously good. If you like hot bikers, give them a try.

    A while ago, I asked blog visitors to suggest mysteries which might appeal to romance readers. They came up with some great suggestions, and I’ve been working my way through the list ever since. Here’s the link, if you’re interested: http://www.monkeybearreviews.com/special-interest/mysteries-for-romance-fans-2/

  9. I highly recommend the Anne Perry Charlotte & Thomas Pitt Victorian Mystery series. Their relationship is ongoing throughout the book. I love the setting and mystries in these books. The first book is The Cater Street Hangman.

    Can we talk m/m mystery series? How about Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series. First book is Fatal Shadows, and it’s excellent. I’m working my way through that series now.

    I loved to see all these recommendations. I am going to check some of them out myself.

  10. Love this post. I would like to second the recommendation for the Claire Fergusson books. I am currently listening to them on Audiobooks. I am going to try several of the other recommendations.

  11. @jml, even the suggestion of a squee works – I’ve bought ‘Ice Blue’ (£0.86 in the UK).

    The only recent example I can think of is Anna Dean’s Dido Kent books. They’re set round about the Regency. I’ve read the first two, and so far the romance is really subtle – but that’s enough for me.

  12. Thanks, everyone, for the great suggestions!

    SON, I have one of Charlaine Harris’ Lily Bard books in my TBR pile. I must get to it soon.

    Lynnd, I also have the first CS Harris Sebastian St. Cyr mystery in my TBR pile people in my mystery book group highly recommend it.

    Maggie B, I’ve never heard of the Loon Lake mysteries. They sound quite different, and I’m very fond of good cozies. I went to a Rhys Bowen signing this past winter and a lot of people were very upset that she stopped writing the Constable Evans series. I do like the Ellie Haskell mysteries as well.

    JML, I’ve heard really good things about GM Malliet; need to try one.
    HAT, I have read several of the Bennie Harpers books; must get back to it. I really like Margaret Maron’s series. You’re right, the relationship is very slow to develop. The books have such a good sense of place. I’ve never heard of the Catherine Levendeur mysteries. I’ll have to check them out. I have read Carole Nelson Douglas’s series. While it’s not among my favorites I still like it. Again, Robin Paige’s series first is in my TBR pile :)

    Maggie B, Maisie Dobbs is one of my absolute favorites. I just adore the whole series. Until the last two books I wouldn’t have said she had a love interest. I’ll be very curious to see what Ms. Winspear does with her in the future.

    SarahT, we read the first in Elly Griffith’s series for book group, and I’ve since read the second. I really like the character of Ruth, but you’re right, it may definitely not appeal to some romance fans. I’ve never heard of Lori Armstrong’s Julie Collins mysteries. Thanks for the link!

    Susan, I recently started Anne Perry’s series. It’s very well done.

    Marianne, I’ve never heard of Anna Dean’s series. I’ll have to look.

    Renee, promise I’m going to get to the Claire Fergusson books soon; they’re so highly recommended.

  13. Hmm, I get being bummed that the Evans mysteries are done but he had a really great story arc. The ending of the series left him in a good place and — most importantly, the books were still good. I am grateful she ended things on a high note. Really hate it when I drop a series (like I did The Cat Who books by Lillian Jackson Braun) because things have gone on for so long its just annoying or boring.

    maggie b.

  14. I second/third? the recommendation for Margaret Maron. In addition to her Deborah Knott series, she wrote about Sirgid Harald, a police lieutenant in NYC. Maybe Sigrid will make an appearance in this year’s Knott book; Deb and Dwight are going to the Big Apple.

    I don’t thing that anyone has mentioned Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series, set in post-WWI Britain.

    Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles books also have romantic elements. Susan and her husband Bill wrote the Robin Paige books set in Britain at the turn of the 20th century. The first one in Death at Bishop’s keep.

    Happy reading,
    Kay

  15. Kay, I didn’t know Margaret maron wrote another series. I do like the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn. They’re quite fun. Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series is one of my favorites. I didn’t know that she and her husband write the Robin Paige books.

  16. Yes, I read a lot of mystery series, all historical and many on audio. I too love the Tasha Alexander series and the Lady Julia series by Deanna Raybourn – they’re both very similar. I’m reading Raybourn’s latest at the moment.

    I also really like the Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin, who unfortunately died recently. I listen to these on audio. Very good, narrated by the same narrator who narrates the Pink Carnation series (another one I love) by Lauren Willig.

    I adore the Amelia Peabody books and they are FANTASTIC on audio. They have me in stitches! They are my favorite mystery couple bar none.

    I’ve recently started the Julian Kestrel series by another late author, Kate Ross. The first book was great, and I hear the 2nd is even better! The Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries are in my TBR pile too. Anne Perry is on my TBR list too with her Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series.

  17. Julie L, thanks for the recommendation about Ariana Franklin’s series in audio. I’ve been looking at that series for quite awhile, but didn’t realize it was available in audio. I really like Kate Reading’s narrations of the Pink Carnation series, so that’s a selling point for me. Oh yes, Amelia Peabody in audio (with Barbara Rosenblat) is fantastic!

  18. The ancient Roman mystery series by both Lindsey Davis and Ruth Downie are excellent. Ms. Davis adds a lot of historical detail. I also enjoy the knight templar mystery series by Maureen Ash although there is not a lot of romance.

    However, Ellis Peter’s Cadfael series always has a romance around the mystery plot. It is a different couple each time, but they are excellent.

  19. Historical mysteries with a romantic subplot are a real favorite of mine. Some VERY LONG comments:

    Candace Robb wrote a series of Medieval mysteries, the first two or so giving the love story between the hero (retired soldier Owen Archer, now indirectly working for one of the main prelates in England) and heroine Lucy Wilton (who is an apothecary). The first two titles are The Apothecary Rose and The Lady Chapel.

    Laurie R. King has written a series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his much younger apprentice detective (later his wife). The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first book. Bestsellers, worth seeking out.

    Mary Stewart, who started writing in the 50s, is still one of the best writers EVER of romantic suspense in my opinion. Among her best: Madame, Will You Talk?; My Brother Michael; Airs Above the Ground; Touch Not the Cat; The Moonspinners (don’t watch the movie); and This Rough Magic.

    Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel series is wonderful. Unfortunately the author died young after writing only four books, but they are worth seeking out and cherishing.

    The Beau Brummell series by Rosemary Stevens are actually very similar in some ways to Julian’s books, but they are told from the somewhat self-centered POV of the Beau himself. Unfortunately the publisher axed the series after only four volumes. The Beau is in love with a major female character in the series, but since she is married the relationship is platonic. (I know – that didn’t stop most Regency-era people in real life!)

    The Cadfael series by Ellis Peters must not be missed.

    Elizabeth Peters (with a confusingly similar name) also wrote a number of other books besides the Amelia Peabody series, but set in the present. Frequently they include historical mysteries, however, which is not surprising since the author is a trained archeologist. I also like the Vicky Bliss series, and some of her single-title books, particularly Summer of the Dragon and Devil-may-care. As Barbara Michaels, she also wrote a lot of romantic suspense (though not lately). Ammie Come Home is probably the most well-known and was made into a TV movie starring Barbara Stanwyck.

    Joan Wolf also wrote two wonderful books set during the 12th century Civil War in England (the same period as the Cadfael books) featuring hero Hugh Corbaille and his sweetheart Cristin. No Dark Place and The Poisoned Serpent are worth seeking out – unfortunately the publisher chose not to continue the series!

    Sharan Newman’s Catherine Levendeur books are well-written, but the modern reader may find the strong emphasis on religion (both hero and heroine meant to enter the Church) puts them off. I got tired of Catherine after several books.

    There are more out there – I’m so happy to learn about some books I’ve never heard of.

  20. sandy l, I’ve never heard of the Knight Templar mysteries. I’m heading over to Amazon to check them out. They sound interesting.

    Kari S, you’ve mentioned some great mysteries. I’m listening to the latest Laurie R. King Holmes/Russell mystery right now (The Pirate King). That series is a real favorite of mine. I came to Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss series rather late, but enjoyed the series. Some of Mary Stewart’s are just wonderful. Like you, I’d definitely say read The Moonspinners, rather than watching the movie; they’re completely different. I’ve looked at those Beau Brummel mysteries in the bookstore, but just haven’t picked one up; guess I need to try one out.

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