Romantic Suspense: A match made in Heaven

By Joslyn Chase

If you’re here on BookBaybz, it’s a safe bet you love Romance. I don’t have to sell you on the appeal—you know what you love about it.

But how do you feel about Romantic Suspense?

If you think about the books, movies, and television series that have made the biggest boom in recent years, chances are good that suspense fiction will cross your mind. Girl on The Train, Gone Girl, Mission Impossible, House of Cards, Sherlock, Killing Eve, to name a few. These are stories designed to infuse intrigue and deliver thrills.

It’s no secret that suspense fiction is wildly popular in today’s culture. Thrillers and mysteries are devoured by both sexes, but evidence suggests that women dominate the market for suspense fiction by a significant margin. According to a 2010 survey, female fiction fans read mystery/thriller/crime novels at a much higher rate than men—57 % to 39 %.

NIA 7C Final

So what’s the attraction?

1.      We like puzzling it out

Research suggests that the female brain is more adept at flagging down and dealing with details, and more attuned to puzzle-solving activities. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Sam Fraser, citing from neurological studies based on the difference between male and female brain function, puts it this way:

“Men tend to process better in the left hemisphere of the brain, while women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres. This explains why men approach problem-solving from a task-oriented perspective, while women typically solve problems more creatively and are more aware of feelings while communicating.

“So, men generally like it all laid out for them, and women like to draw their own conclusions.” Making women an ideal audience for books in the mystery and thriller arena.

2.      We’re emotionally in tune

Women tend to be emotionally accessible, especially when we open ourselves to an experience, such as that of reading a book. Turns out, that’s a big part of processing riddles and navigating a mystery. Neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer makes this claim: “If it weren’t for our emotions, reason wouldn’t exist at all.”

In her fascinating book, Wired For Story, Lisa Cron expands on this by telling about a man who lost a small section of his frontal cortex due to a benign brain tumor. As a result, he lost the faculty of his emotions and approached everything from a neutral standpoint, rendering him unable to make even the simplest decisions.

Emotion is the engine which drives our problem-solving machinery, and women have it in spades.

Wired for story

3.      Safe adrenalin high

Like eating dark chocolate, there are a number of beneficial chemical changes that can occur during a heightened adrenalin release, like that produced by reading a taut-with-suspense nail-biter. When you read, you put yourself in the heroine’s shoes, experiencing vicariously what she is going through.

Neuroscience has shown that a reader’s brain receives the stimuli and reacts as if the story events were actually occurring, increasing pulse rate and releasing chemicals, such as dopamine and adrenalin, into the bloodstream. Adrenalin has a dilation effect, which can help relieve pressure, relax smooth muscles, block pain signals, boost your immune system, and even slow the ageing process.

What’s more—you can get all these benefits from the safety of your own living room couch or a day at the beach. No risk required. Though you won’t find doctors writing prescriptions for regular doses of thriller reading, just imagine what the cumulative effects might be if you indulged on a daily basis!

4.      Sense of order

In a world that seems to get crazier by the day, a great suspense novel can be like a haven. Not only does it offer a temporary escape as we lose ourselves in an alternate reality, but crime fiction tends to emphasize justice and order, bringing things right in the end. Our innate desire for justice demands a satisfactory tie-up, with good triumphing over evil and the villain getting his just desserts.

While it doesn’t always end up quite so pat, mysteries and thrillers often draw a more clear-cut distinction between good and evil than other types of fiction. One defining appeal of the genre is the tendency to restore order to an out-of-order world.

Romance + Suspense = the perfect package

When you combine the charms of Romance with the appeal of Suspense, you get Romantic Suspense, the perfect package for an excellent read.

The essence of romantic suspense is the heroine, a woman we can relate to, caught up in a perilous situation. Circumstances are such that she must either choose between two somewhat mysterious men—one good and trustworthy, the other bad and set on harming her—or else come to terms with her attraction to a man who appears to be a villain.

Either way, this is heady stuff, intensely suspenseful, and she has only her heart to guide her aright. Romantic suspense combines the best elements from both the Romance and Suspense genres to create a story, told from the point of view of the threatened heroine.

Strong woman + difficult situation = the perfect heroine

In the old-school tradition, the hero often did most of the heavy lifting, rescuing our lady and bringing about a satisfying resolution. Today’s audiences demand more from the heroine, and she delivers! She must extricate herself from danger, with the hero playing a part in her rescue, thus cementing the bond that has been growing between them throughout the story.

Romantic Suspense offers us a delicious flavor of unease, a prickle of danger in the air. We move forward with the suspicion that all is not as it seems. The best Romantic Suspense stories feature strong women in difficult situations, and the heroine is often isolated, either physically or emotionally, creating a sense of helplessness which she must overcome.

Superb setup + apt resolution = perfect reading pleasure

The genre draws fans from the mystery and romance readership, both groups demanding a satisfactory resolution. Readers go into it with a pretty fair idea of the final outcome. They read to discover how that outcome is reached, and to savor the delectable details. Reading such novels provides a satisfying vicarious thrill. We identify with the heroine, putting ourselves in her place and experiencing the story through her senses.

With the enchanting combination of passion and intrigue, Romantic Suspense really is a match made in heaven.


Joslyn Chase’s most recent book, Double Eclipse, packs twice the suspense, with one mystery and one thriller intertwined beneath a total eclipse of the sun. Her novella, The Tower, is a Romantic Suspense set for release in November 2018. What Leads A Man To Murder, her collection of short suspense, is available for free at joslynchase.com. When she’s not reading or writing, Joslyn loves traveling, teaching, and playing the piano.

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