Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Romance of Murder

Not long ago, I read a thoughtful and interesting review of The Strange and Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker on one of my favorite blogs, Melissa's Bookshelf. In the review, Melissa writes that she's as interested in how the romance that develops in the novel turns out as she is in the main plot. Strictly speaking, The Strange and Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker isn't a mystery; certainly it's not a murder mystery. But the review of it got me to thinking...

It's interesting to think about how often murder leads to romance, or at least, how often murder and romance are intertwined in mystery novels. Sometimes, two people are thrown together in the course of a murder investigation, and that's how they fall in love. Sometimes, two people who know each other anyway fall in love over the course of an investigation (or a series).

The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle's second novel, is a classic example of the first kind of romance. In it, Dr. John Watson meets Mary Marston, who seeks out Sherlock Holmes' help to unravel the mystery of her father's disappearance and to explain why every year, she receives a pearl on the anniversary of that disappearance. As Watson and Martson are thrown together throughout the story, they fall in love and eventually marry.

The same thing happens in Agatha Christie's The Murder on the Links. In that story, Captain Arther Hastings meets a young woman he knows only as "Cinderella." He and "Cinderella" are also thrown together as Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of wealthy Canadian transplanted to France. As the mystery deepens, and "Cinderella" herself turns out to hold a key to the mystery, she and Hastings fall in love. In fact, Poirort deliberately matches the two, saying that he has arranged a marriage for Hastings. In the end "CInderella's" identity is revealed, and she and Hastings make a life together. In fact, that's hardly the only example of Poirot playing matchmaker. He does so in several other novels, too, including Death in the Air (AKA Death in the Clouds), Sad Cypress, and Murder in Three Acts (AKA Three-Act Tragedy).

In Laurien Berenson's A Pedigree to Die For, her sleuth, Melanie Travis, meets San Driver, a Poodle breeder, as she's investigating the murder of her Uncle Max Turnbull, who's also a Poodle breeder and kennel owner. Throughout the course of the Melanie Travis series, Melanie and Sam develop a romance that ends in marriage and a new baby.

We can see an example of the second kind of murder/romance connection I mentioned in Christie's Mrs. McGinty's Dead (quite frankly, one of my favorite Christie novels). In the novel, James Bentley is accused and convicted of murdering his landlady. Hercule Poirot is asked to investigate the murder when Superintendent Spence, who originally investigated it, comes to believe that he was wrong in thinking Bentley guilty. Although James Bentley firmly believes that he has no friends, it turns out that there are two young women interested in him, both of whom knew him before the murder. Poirot encourages a match between Bentley and one of the young women, and we find out in a subsequent novel, Hallowe'en Party, that the match has ended in marriage.

Sometimes, the course of true love doesn't run that smoothly. For instance, although Laurien Berenson's Melanie Travis meets Sam Driver in the first of the Melanie Travis mysteries, they don't marry until several novels later, after numerous on-again/off-again interludes. The same kind of "bumpy road to love" faces Robin Cook's Laurie Montgomery and Jack Stapleton. However, one of the best example of tortuous romances is the romance between Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum and Joseph Morelli, a police officer who's her sometimes boyfriend. While the two are attracted to each other, they also drive each other crazy.

In my own Joel Williams series, romance does play a part in the mysteries. People do fall in love; it's a natural thing to happen, so it happens in my novels. For instance, Nick Merrill, a graduate student who is murdered in Publish or Perish, is having a romance with two different women at the same time. In B-Very Flat, it's Serena Brinkman's romantic partner who seeks Williams' help when Serena dies suddenly. But so far, Williams hasn't played matchmaker. Hmmm...maybe I'll have to think about that : ).

What do you think? Do you like your mysteries spiced with romance? Do you think that romance takes away from the mystery?

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