Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Mystery of Romance

by Julia Buckley
In honor of the day, I've been thinking about romance. And in honor of our blog, I've been contemplating mystery--and they go together so well, like chocolate and peanut butter. My favorite mysteries, I realized, contain romance. That makes sense, since love can both drive a plot and become a motive for murder. It also allows a detective to better understand the human condition.

For example, this passage from Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Gloria Scott", in which Holmes is able to deduce the misery engendered by a lost love:

"It is simplicity itself. When you bared your arm to draw the fish into the boat, I saw that J.A. had been tattooed in the bend of the elbow. The letters were still legible, but it was perfectly clear, from their blurred appearance, and from the staining of the skin round them, that efforts had been made to obliterate them. It was obvious, then, that those initials had once been very familiar to you, and that you had afterward wished to forget them."

Love itself, then, can become a clue in a mystery, but it can also be an impetus to the story. My favorite Dorothy Sayers novels were those that revolved around the growing romance between Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and for me that romance was more important than any old murder that Peter might solve.

In the novel Have His Carcase, Peter has proposed to Harriet on numerous occasions and has been continuously, gently, refused. He mentions to Harriet that he would love to see her in a claret-colored gown; the color, he believes, will suit her.

Later they are comparing notes about a murder during a dance at a seaside hotel. Harriet feels rather neglected because Peter has stopped proposing to her, and she is, in fact, wearing a wine-colored dress. She also feels self conscious about her dancing. Peter picks up on this and says, most romantically:

"Darling, if you danced like an elderly elephant with arthritis, I would dance the sun and the moon into the sea with you. I have waited a thousand years to see you dance in that frock."

Ah. It's lines like that which really stay with a person, and romances like that which really liven up a good mystery.

What are the greatest of mystery romances?

Well, the list would have to be topped by Peter and Harriet.

Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (Dorothy Sayers)
Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (Arthur Conan-Doyle)
Nick and Nora Charles (Dashiell Hammett)
Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (Agatha Christie)
Adam Dalgliesh and Emma Lavenham (P.D. James)
Lucy Waring and Max Gale (Mary Stewart)

Oh, there are so many great ones. But I'd like to hear about the ones you found to be sigh-inducing romances!

Happy Valentine's Day!

(photo link here)


paul lamb said...

I'm not sure Holmes/Adler fits here. It wasn't really love. It was more respect. Further, it was respect that was surprising to Holmes because of the sexist stereotypes even he maintained.

If I can off an alternative:

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford by Agatha Christie.

Jess Lourey said...

That is a great comprehensive list, Julia, and a wonderfully romantic post. What a great fit for Valentine's Day! Thank you. :)

Angie said...

Lt. Eve Dallas and Rourke from the In Death series by JD Robb (Norah Roberts).

Keith Raffel said...

May I put a noir spin on this question? What about Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy from the Maltese Falcon? Or Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity? Now, there are two romances for Feb 14.

Julia Buckley said...

Paul--I had Tommy and Tuppence on the list. :)

But I question the Sam and Brigid thing, Keith, although I can't discuss here due to spoilers.

Thanks, Jess!

And Angie, a very good suggestion.

Nina Wright said...

I am always moved by Dave Robicheaux's deep love for his wife Bootsie, who adores him despite his anger and addictions; she sees the loyalty and tenderness behind the violence. (Great boudoir scenes, also, especially IMHO in Purple Cane Road.)

Now Bootsie is dead, and our man--once divorced, twice widowed--has married a former nun. Their passion shines, too, but it's Bootsie's humanizing love of a younger, rasher Robicheaux that I treasure.

Happy Day of Hearts, all!


Julia Buckley said...


I've got the Dave R series on my list, and have been told to start with Confederate Dead; you have made me want to push it closer to the top. And that sounds like a lovely romance.

BV Lawson said...

Hi, Julia!

Just wanted to let you know your blog was mentioned in the latest installment of Carnival of the Criminal Minds:

BV Lawson

G.M. Malliet said...

Perfect blog, Julia. I can't think of a thing to add...a lot of my favorite sleuths are kind of unlucky in love, come to think of it.