I'm not an expert on any genre much less my chosen one. I'm also not a varied reader of romantic suspense. I tend to stick with a few authors and read all of their books. I also gravitate toward what I call 'cozy romantic suspense'. I'm not really into cop/military/CIA heroine/hero books where the hero and heroine are out of their ordinary world almost from the beginning of the story and only return to it with the conclusion. I think of those books as "dark" romantic suspense because they put me in mind of suspense movies like Kiss the Girls or The Skeleton Key. I like those movies and I've enjoyed those types of books when I stumble upon one but my very favorite books, the ones I actively seek, are the accidental sleuth romantic suspense.
The, bookstore owner who stumbles upon a dead body in the A-E aisle, the wedding planner that finds a corpse face down in the wedding cake, or the cafe owner who inherits a blue diamond ring and a mess of trouble ;). So, I started pondering exactly what it is that I like about this type of romantic suspense and that is where my troubles began. For the life of me I couldn't put into words what draws me to the genre or differentiates my favorite styled plot from the "dark" ones. But then I started thinking about some of my favorite books and things became clearer.
My favorite types of romance books used to be historicals-preferably Regency period and I usually didn't venture far from it. Until I picked up an Amanda Quick book. My first was Rendezvous and I was hooked from the get-go. I loved her voice-the humor that she infuses into the dialog and scenes was refreshing and made her heroine's charming. Her books are wonderful romps through the Regency world with enough detail to set the "stage" without the limiting adherence to strictly accurate period details that is found in 'true' Regencies. I enjoyed these books for their lightheartedness but it wasn't until I read Surrender that I realized what I really loved about her books was the mystery that surrounds every hero/heroine relationship.
Until I'd read Amanda Quick I'd never encountered a romance plot with an equally strong mystery plot but the equal strength of these two plot lines isn't even what came to define my definition of romantic suspense. Using Amanda Quick's works as my standard, I've come to define romantic suspense, the good ones anyway, as a romance with a mystery that totally merges with the developing relationship. There is no definable beginning and ending of romance/mystery plot lines throughout the story.
That concept is best exemplified in Quick's book, Surrender. In this book, the heroine's feminist beliefs and keen interest in herbal medicines are not just devices to make the heroine a believable and 3-D character. They directly play into the mystery and danger she finds herself in as well as adding enormous amounts of humor to the story. Every scene meant to depict the rising romantic relationship in some way ties into the developing mystery. In "writer speak" every scene moves both plots forward at the same time. In Surrender, this is done seamlessly; the reader isn't even aware of it until the mystery is solved and the villain is unmasked. Then we think back to things that happened and realize how each incident, tied into the mystery.
Andrew Carnagie paid Napoleon Hill to study him and write a book on how Carnagie had achieved success. That book became Think and Grow Rich. A core idea in the book is the belief that success can be obtained by studying and modeling oneself after someone they admire who has achieved that success. I believe and try to follow those principles so when I wrote Ring of Lies I went back and analyzed what made Surrender such a great book. I used sticky notes to mark pages and I mapped out how each scene meshed with the romance or mystery plot. I basically broke the book down by scenes/chapters and laid them out on a plotline map like I do for my own works. Doing that made me see how a master author achieved a great story and I tried to transfer that to my own book.
So, what elements need to be in a book for you to call them a great romantic suspense? Do you have an all time favorite that you read again and again? On another note, have you read Hill's Think and Grow Rich?