I’m often asked how and why I blend mystery and romance in my Lady Darby historical mystery series. Perhaps the plainest reason why I do so is because they’re natural parts of humanity. My books may be shelved in the mystery section, but at their heart they are really about the people that populate them.
History informs their setting, the methodology of the characters, and some parts of the plot: The mystery creates the structure and central arc around which all the other elements rotate, as well as generates tension and danger; but at their very core, my books are the tales of my heroines. The addition of romance simply allows me to not only explore another aspect of their humanity, but also to delve deeper into who they are, and up the ante when it comes to the risks at stake for them.
Mystery books are at their essence puzzles—problems to unravel and figure out. Yet, in many respects, there is no greater puzzle than the human heart. That fact in and of itself makes mystery and romance a natural fit. As the protagonists work to gather clues and solve the crimes before them, so, too, are they endeavoring to understand the other player and why they are so drawn to them.
Their romantic interest is yet another mystery to be solved, as is their own attraction to them. In this way, the central mystery and romance echo and enhance each other. They provide a natural push and pull, both increasing the tension and mitigating it as the various truths are untangled.
But this romantic-driven tango of conflict doesn’t have to end with the traditional happily-ever-after. The protagonists can profess their love or state their vows, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve plumbed the depths of themselves or who their significant others are. Commitment doesn’t guarantee eternal contentment, not when our emotions are so changeable and play such a pivotal role. And so the romance shifts and mutates, much as an investigation does.
The manner in which two relative strangers feeling the first sparks of attraction might approach a murder inquiry might be different than how a couple married for a decade might conduct it. The strangers might not trust each other while the married couple have a comfortable rapport and respect for each other’s strengths.
Or alternately, perhaps the strangers are—naively or not—willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt, while something in the married couple’s relationship has shattered their trust in each other both personally and professionally. As such, when considering adding a romantic element to the type of mystery one is writing, it’s important to consider such factors.
It's also important to consider how romance might heighten the danger faced by the protagonists and deepen the consequences of their failure to solve the mystery either correctly or quickly. If the life or well-being of the love interest is in jeopardy, it makes the outcome of the protagonist’s inability to succeed that much more personal.
Quite simply, blending romance with mystery engages the reader’s emotions more deeply and completely. It adds different colors and textures to the story and enhances the tension.