Sunday, July 31, 2016

A GIRL LIKE YOU introduces a detective and a taxi dancer

HALLIE EPHRON: Chicago in the 1930s with the stock market crash in the recent past is the setting for a new series by Michelle Cox. A GIRL LIKE YOU introduces readers to a delightful pair of sleuths, and makes a convincing argument for mixing mystery and romance. Today I'm happy to welcome Michelle Cox to Jungle Red.  

MICHELLE COX: Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.  Molly Murphy and Daniel Sullivan.  Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson.  We all have our favorite detective pair of sleuths who, when not battling villains, just can’t seem to fight their attraction for each other.


But wait a minute, the purist might interrupt, isn’t this meant to be a mystery story?  A theft, a kidnapping, a murder—or worse?  Why are these two seemingly intelligent characters often ignoring very obvious clues in the case before them in order to investigate each other, and often in an embarrassingly clumsy way?  The answer, of course, is because they can’t help it.

The mystery and romance genres fit seamlessly together in a way no two other genres could.  Can you imagine what might happen if sci-fi attempted to blend together with a western, for example?  Something presumably messy.  Maybe an interesting one-off, but not the sort of thing that would fill a whole section of any self-respecting bookstore.  No, romance, it seems, is the universal donor, the “O negative” of the fiction world.

And why?  Because characters, even the most hard-boiled, are human and ultimately have the desire for love etched deeply in their hearts.  And mystery, if examined closely, is the perfect universal receiver.

Why?  Well, for one thing because the romantic tension between the sleuths is a natural distraction from the case at hand.  Not only does it give the characters something else to do or think about besides tracking down the killer, but it is a great red herring for the reader as well.  And it makes the characters more vulnerable, which adds, of course, to the tension already brewing surrounding the mystery.  Not only are the characters perhaps in physical danger, but now they are in emotional danger as well. 

And let’s face it, the romantic prospects of the sleuths are a form a mystery as well.  A mini mystery of “will they, won’t they?” inside the bigger case—an extra thrill, or titillation, if you will, for those “rapt” up in it with them.   

Certainly this is the “case” with the newest pair of sleuths on the scene, Inspector Clive Howard and Henrietta Von Harmon in the debut novel, A Girl Like You.  The aloof Inspector is definitely not contemplating a romance with Henrietta, the impoverished taxi dancer whom he encounters at a dance hall in Chicago, circa 1935.  Instead, he hopes to convince her  to use her stunning beauty and her ability to disguise herself to go undercover for him to track a killer, a role she hesitantly picks up for the money. 

So far so good on the mystery side, but it doesn’t take long before Henrietta finds herself unfortunately falling for the Inspector.  Clive meanwhile begins to piece things together and uncomfortably discovers that Henrietta is not the woman of the world he originally thought she was, realizing with a certain degree of dread that not only has he put a vulnerable young woman in danger, but that he himself is beginning to be tempted by her charming innocence.  He struggles to restrain himself from what would surely be an inappropriate relationship, even as she longs for his love and protection, secretly taking on more and more risks to impress him.  But, Clive and Henrietta!  There’s a killer on the loose!  Remember? 

There are those, of course, the purists mentioned above, who have no tolerance for this sort of genre-blending.  They like their mysteries to only to be about the case at hand and not about Emerson’s wry observations of Amelia’s disheveled hair, for example, nor do they want Molly contemplating the particular shade of Daniel’s “alarmingly blue eyes,” or Clive softly brushing the side of Henrietta’s cheek with his fingertips.  They want facts and only facts. 

But most of us are not so one-sided, so cold of heart.  We don’t mind our mysteries with a side of romance, or maybe even more.  We like our heart to beat a little faster, and not just because the villain has just jumped out of the closet, holding a gun.  And joyfully for us, most mysteries can deliver the thrill, in more ways than one.   

Do you enjoy your mystery with a bit of romance or are you more of a purist?  And if you do enjoy a romantic subplot, who are your favorite duos?

53 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Mystery and romance seems like a perfect pair to me. I’m looking forward to reading “A Girl Like You” . . . .

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Joan! Do you have a favorite pair of sleuths?

Grace Koshida said...

Thanks for stopping by and telling us about "A Girl Like You", Michelle. Mystery with an interesting couple that has an evolving romantic relationship is fine with me. But there are too many cliched amateur sleuth and cop mystery series that have the pairing just for the sake of having a way for the amateur sleuth to continue to be get involved in the mystery, and the relationship does not change. That's not good enough for me. You already mentioned one of my favourite current pair of couples: Duncain Kincaid and Gemma James by JRW's Deborah.

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Grace! I'm truly honored to be here today. The Jungle Reds are some of my favorite authors! I agree that the romantic relationship should evolve, otherwise it gets boring and old and makes the plot unconvincing. Look for plenty of romantic drama in the "Henrietta and Inspector Howard" series. As the series goes on, the development of their relationship almost takes a front seat to the mysteries. It's a bit of a tight-rope, not only between the two of them, but between the question of mystery and romance itself.

Grace Koshida said...

Thanks, Michelle! Too many books to read, too little time so I do abandon mystery series I used to read if they get stale. So many new authors to find and try, like you! And I will check out the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welcome Michelle! Someone once asked if I could write a mystery without romance. My answer: not if the characters are real people!

But then they asked: could you write a romance without a mystery? I had to think about that--and then finally said--"well no, because what would the characters do?"

Shows you why I'm not a romance writer! And why I came up with Jake and Jane.

Hallie Ephron said...

I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth George's DI Lynley and Sergeant Havers. And those guy "couples" like Morse and Lewis. Top of the list: Lord Peter Winsey and Harriet Vane.

Hallie Ephron said...

One of the things I like so much about Jake and Jane is that it's natural that both of them would be involved in investigating a crime. You never have the problem Grace raises: "pairing just for the sake of having a way for the amateur sleuth to continue to be get involved in the mystery"

Elisabeth said...

I'm with Hallie -- Lord Peter and Harriet Vane my total favorite couple. Followed by the film version of Nick and Nora Charles, which are technically romantic comedies rather than mysteries with romance.

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Grace! Hope you enjoy Henrietta and Clive. I, too, have begun abandoning books or series that don't keep my interest. Something I would never have done when I was younger! But time is ticking, as one of my professors once said. So many great books to get to out there, one has to be a bit discerning!

Ann in Rochester said...

Dorothy Sayers comes to mind immediately and the long courtship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Helen Vane. The delicious tingle between Dandy and Alec. Will Ruth Galloway and Nelson ever resolve their relationship? Inspector Wexford and Dora, the epitome of comfort.. I could go on and on. The titillation of a romantic interlude is delightful. But graphic sex bores me. So shoot me. I've had sex a lot of times and have nothing much else to learn. Please leave it to my imagination.

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks for the welcome, Hank! Yes, I think it would be hard to write "just" a mystery or "just" a romance. Bravo to those who can!

And Elisabeth, I also love Nick and Nora! Some of my favorite duos on the page, however, would have to be Amelia and Emerson or Lord Richard Selwick and Amy Balcourt, though both of these couples would just barely be considered sleuths in the traditional sense, so perhaps they don't count.

Michelle Cox said...

Ha! Well said, Ann!

Michelle Cox said...

I also think the relationship between Sherlock and Mary Russell is an interesting one!

Marianne in Maine said...

I'm RUNNING to get this book! It sounds fantastic. (I'm not really running. Who am I kidding? But I am going to get it immediately.)

My favorites are definitely Duncan and Gemma and Jane and Jake. But I have to mention Nick and Nora. How fantastic are they?!

Thanks for coming by. I learn about so many great new reads from JRW.

FChurch said...

Loved Peabody and Emerson--Crocodile on the Sandbank was one of the few mysteries to make me laugh out loud! Russ and Clare--that heartbreaking moment when Russ stood at the wreckage of his wife's car--"She was coming back to me...." and Clare forlorn behind him--couples you can really root for--not, like Grace pointed out--a couple that exists for the writer's plot machinations.

I would have to say most of the long-running series I follow all have a romance at the heart of them--Duncan and Gemma, Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine, and so on. Looking forward to A Girl Like You.

Ann in Rochester said...

Oops, forgot to congratulate Michelle on her new book, one more added to my TBR pile.

Hallie Ephron said...

I like Nick and Nora... but (and I suppose this is true of films from that era) seems like all they do is smoke and drink. I've never found being drunk funny, except in Ninotchka. Anyone else remember? Greta Garbo plays a stiff Russian diplomat who gets drunk for the first time and... melts. Though now I'm wondering, she's from Russia, surely she'd be well acquainted with Vodka. I'll have to go back and watch it.

Michelle: YES, on Sherlock and Mary Russell. Love her.

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Marianne and Ann! Hope you enjoy the series.

And FChurch - I laughed out loud, too, when I read Crocodile. How often does that happen?

And I forgot about that moment for Russ and Clare. Beautiful. All of the duos mentioned so far—Jake and Jane, Duncan and Gemma, Armand and Reine, Peter and Harriet, Ruth and Nelson, Wexford and Dora, Lynley and Havers—are so much fun to read. Perhaps because they are so real, as already mentioned.

Michelle Cox said...

Hallie - I've thought the same thing watching Nick and Nora. I find myself wondering how they manage to walk around, much less solve a case!

Deborah Crombie said...

I think it's obvious which side of the romantic divide I fall on:-) Many of my favorite couples have already been mentioned, but don't leave out Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence!

Michelle, I, too, am running out to buy your book!

Michelle Cox said...

Aww! Thanks, Deborah!

Mia @ Killer Appetite (Murder is Delicious) said...

I think romance, when well-done and not the central focus of the story, can improve just about any genre.

I love love LOVE the flirtations between Phryne Fisher and Inspector Jack Robinson in the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries TV series. So much fun.

Mia @ Killer Appetite (Murder is Delicious) said...

Oh, I forgot to add:

As a born-and-bred Chicagoan, I can't wait to read "A Girl Like You" ^^

Celia Fowler said...

I enjoy mysteries that have a little romance in them-- not as the focus of the book, but as a part of the character development, and I like it to grow with the series, and not happen all at once. I guess I have historical mysteries on the brain this morning, but some of my favorite couples are Charlotte & Thomas Pitt from the Anne Perry books and Sarah and Frank from Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Series. I am definitely adding A Girl Like You to my TBR list, and have a question -- what is a taxi dancer?

Teri Soares said...

We all seem to have the same favorites -- Duncan and Gemma, Jake and Jane, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. I'm still working through the Jake and Jane mysteries, but once I've read those, it will be time for a new series. This one by Michelle Cox sounds intriguing.

Michelle Cox said...

Mia - Yes! I love the Phryne Fisher series, too. This is one situation that I prefer the screen version to the books. I think the chemistry between Phryne and Jack comes across more this way. And I love seeing her dresses on screen! Hope you like A Girl Like You. You'll have to let me know if the Chicago references are on target.

Susan said...

I'm DEFINITELY a fan of a well-written, growing and changing romance like Gemma and Duncan. And Mia took the words out of my mouth about Phryne Fisher and Jack Robinson. "A Girl Like You" sounds wonderful!

I do have to take exception to one point from the beginning of the post, though. Science fiction meets Western is actually a genre in itself. Gene Roddenberry described that as his vision for the original Star Trek series, and the very popular series Firefly was characterized the same way. George Lucas attributed parts of Star Wars to classic themes of Westerns. There's even a magazine, Science Fiction Trails, devoted to stories in the genre.

Bev Fontaine said...

Tuppence and Tommy! I adore them. Francesca Annis was absolutely fabulous as Tuppence. Amelia and Emerson have provided me much needed escape from reality. Clare and Russ are more serious, like Duncan and Gemma. And then there's Georgie and the divine Darcy. What's not to love? And someone mentioned Richard and Amy Selwick. Love, love Lauren Willig's characters. Then there's Lady Julia Grey and her Nicholas. So many wonderful characters written by wonderfully talented women!

Michelle Cox said...

Hi, Celia! I'm currently making my way through the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series as well as Victoria Thompson's. There's so much to read! I'd also like to further explore Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series and her developing relationship with Colin Hargreaves. I think you can see where my taste is veering - almost into romantic suspense, which is still, in my mind, mystery, but not as hard-core. What does everyone else think?

And to answer your question! - a taxi dancer was a young woman hired by the big dance halls of the 1920's, 30's and 40's who would dance with men for a dime a dance. Thus, they were also sometimes called "Dime-a-Dance" girls. Usually they kept a nickel, and the house got a nickel. In Chicago, anyway, taxi dancers were first employed by the big dance halls (like the Aragon) to instruct men in how to dance, but it later morphed into an entertainment sort of thing. Of course, there were more shady places where other things were offered for a price as well, hence being a taxi dancer was not a very reputable occupation for a young woman. Women who took such a job were pretty desperate, often with no family to speak of. If they did have a family, they usually hid what their job really was.

You can see where this might be going for poor Henrietta...Hope you like it!

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Teri!

Hope you enjoy the series!

Michelle Cox said...

Ha! Susan - I stand corrected! I did not know that about Westerns and Sci-Fi, though I suppose I can see what you mean about Star Trek and Star Wars themes. Somehow in my head I was merely picturing cowboys fighting alien spaceships. Obviously a limited imagination. :)

Thanks for the nice compliment about "A Girl Like You"!

Michelle Cox said...

Yes, I also love Georgie and Darcy! They are such a great escape. Haven't explored Lady Julia and Nicholas yet, but I'll get there. And Lauren Willig's characters are amazing. Again, mystery? adventure? romantic suspense? The genre question has always left me a bit baffled.

Jim Collins said...

Romance adds depth to the characters, potential for conflict and development; what's not to like? Faves: Clare and Russ; Peter and Harriet; Kenzie and Gennaro; Jane and Jake; Duncan and Gemma; Thursday and Landen.

Michelle Cox said...

Jim - agreed! Thursday and Landen are new to me, so I just looked them up. How have I missed them? These books sound wonderful - again, a strange mix of genres. Can't wait to try them!

Rhys said...

I adore romantic tension in a story so really looking forward to reading this, Michelle. I say phooey to those purists who want the sleuth to be a lonely grumpy guy who drowns his sorrows in booze
It's always a worry to me that my books will be as appealing when boy finally gets girl.

Elisabeth said...

Amazing to read all these pairings and to realize how many of these mystery-romances I have read/follow. While Harriet and Peter still top my list, it would be difficult to complete a list in order...Daisy and Alec, Debra and Dwight, Claire and Russ...and on and on. Thanks for filling my rather gloomy Sunday with these fascinating thoughts.

Daniella Bernett said...

Michelle,

I absolutely agree mystery and romance are two genres that go perfectly together. Crime often times deals with passion or jealousy, two very human and powerful emotions. Romantic suspense or tension only serves to add spice to a story or to add a twist that can take it in a whole new direction.

I wish you much success with your series!

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Rhys! I agree, the lonely grumpy detective is not my cup of tea.

But you are spot on about being able to continue the romantic tension once the two sleuths finally get together. But there's always something you can throw in - old girlfriend resurfacing, parental disapproval, baby on the way? Or, better yet, some side characters who just happen to fall in love. Well, better than nothing!

Michelle Cox said...

Yes, Elisabeth,

I'm shocked, too, at how many I haven't read. And I thought I was pretty well-versed. Just goes to show...

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Daniella!

Agreed. The tension and emotions surrounding the crime lend themselves well to the romantic drama playing, or not playing, out. Any favorite duos?

Kathy Reel said...

Oh, I absolutely like romance with my mystery. What a clever way of describing romance as the "universal donor," Michelle. I especially enjoy the romance when it is fraught with reasons the couple shouldn't be together, the unlikely pairings. Thinking about it now, maybe most of them are unlikely, which makes rooting for them all the more fun.

I have quite a few favorite pairings, starting with the Jungle Reds' couples. Gemma and Duncan, Clare and Russ, Molly and Daniel, Lady Georgie and Darcy, Jane and Jake. And, I'm waiting for Maggie Hope to find a worthy mate. One of my favorite couples is Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, whom Ann has mentioned have a most complicated relationship. I've had several conversations with Elly Griffiths/Domenica de Rosa, author of the Ruth books, about ways to eliminate Nelson's wife, Michelle. We now have a running joke between us about that. Another favorite couple is from Anne Cleeland's A New Scotland Yard Mysteries, Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair (Lord Acton) and Detective Kathleen Doyle. Acton has an interesting problem and Doyle is a plain speaking Irish girl. A long-time favorite is Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes from Laurie King's series, an intellectual pairing of great interest. Bev, I was a big fan of Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia and Nicholas, too, and I miss that series. Louise Penny's Armand and Reine are dear to me, too. Kristi Belcamino's Gabriella Giovanni series gives us Gabriella and Detective Sean Donovan. And, Linda Fairstein gives us Alex Cooper and Mike Chapman. I'm sure I've left someone out, but that's a good list so far.

Now Michelle, it looks like I'll be adding Clive Howard and Henrietta Von Harmon to my list of favorite couples in mystery/crime reading. A Girl Like You sounds right up my alley of books I'd enjoy. Thanks for a great read in your article today.

Pat D said...

Mystery and romance is the perfect combination. In addition to those already named I would add Imogen Robertson's Crowther & Westerman, India Black and French, Lady Darby and Gage, Amory Ames and Milo, Catherine Lloyd's Lucy Harrington and Major Sir Robert Kurland. I have to read your duo now Michelle!

Kait said...

Delightful, and who could resist that cover! Love often leads to murder, why shouldn't murder leave to love. Yin/Yang.

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Kathy, Pat and Kait for your kind compliments. I hope you enjoy the series! As I sit here, I'm working on last minute edits for book 2 of the series, "A Ring of Truth" before I have to turn it over to the editors tomorrow! Yikes! So this delightful blog is proving to be a very welcome diversion!

Thanks for adding to the ever-growing list of duos, Kathy and Pat! It's hard to imagine there are that many.

Has anyone been watching/reading Grantchester? Though not a male/female detective duo, the romantic tension between Sidney and Amanda is quite good. Or maybe it's just James Norton. Ha!

storytellermary said...

Intelligence is very attractive, as is courage and loyalty to friends, so how could there not be some romance in a good mystery? A GIRL LIKE YOU looks like great fun!

Barbara Stark-Nemon said...

A bit late to the party, here, but I can vouch that those of you heading toward A Girl Like You are in for a treat! I typically read neither romance nor mystery, but Michelle Cox, Clive and Henrietta have me hooked! Can't wait for book 2... Enjoy...

Michelle Cox said...

Well said, Storytellermery!

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Barbara! So glad you liked it!

Laura said...

A little late to the conversation but A Girl Like You is a great book and I can't not wait for the next book!! Was engaged in the story from the beginning and hated to finish the book! Looking forward to the next book!!

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Laura! Any favorite detective duos?

Ann Mettert said...

The book really sounds good. I like all mysteries, with or without romance. 😉

Michelle Cox said...

Thanks, Ann! You're right; all mysteries are great, but I do prefer mine with a side of romance!