Monday, October 25, 2010

Sex and the Single Sleuth

RHYS: Lately my thoughts have been turning to sex.
No, it's not a last ditch attempt to recapture my lost youth. It's just that the subject has come up in different circumstances. As you know, I've spent the last month on a book tour , promoting Royal Blood. At almost every one of my question and answer sessions, one of the questions has been "are Georgie and Darcy going to do it soon?" or, more tamely, "are we going to see more of Darcy?"

Deciding how much sex to put into a mystery novel is never easy. Some mystery readers are annoyed by anything that takes them away from the central plot of solving the murder. They see the introduction of a relationship as something that demeans the book--reducing it to the level of romantic fluff.

However others like their sleuths to have relationships. Obviously to my readers the will-they-won't-they relationship of my protagonist is a big issue.
Equally obviously I know that I am writing a fun, light book and that romance is part of the enjoyment. I was asked whether I chose the name Darcy deliberately because of Pride and Prejudice. The answer to that one was "Duh!" Every time I type the word Darcy I see Colin Firth coming out of the lake with his shirt open and his clothes clinging to him.

So it's always an inflamatory subject. During my panel discussion with Deborah Crombie and Louise Penny Deborah revealed that she has had hate mail about the relationship between Duncan and Gemma. "I will never read another of your books if you keep up this disgusting sex between unmarried people."

Personally I like my sleuths to have a life. I don't write about the loners who spend their nights nursing bourbon in bar rooms or stalking the mean streets of the city. I have always enjoyed the sexual tension of Moonlighting.
On the other hand I too get annoyed if writers add sex scenes for no reason or if a character is too promiscuous for my taste.
So what is the answer? How much sex is appropriate? How much is too much?

Please share your thoughts as readers and writers...
and to conclude, I'm conducting a poll. Which fictional sleuth would you like to sleep with?
Or if you want to keep this PG rated--which sleuth would you like to spend a romantic evening with?

ROBERTA: I love the will they, won't they tension in a series as long as it's done with a deft touch. Julia Spencer Fleming does it so well in her series starring an Episcopalian priest and a police chief. Of course Janet Evanovich took this to a new level with Stephanie Plum until it got plum silly.

On the other hand, I'm not that eager to read about graphic sex. I'd rather experience the exciting run-up and then let the characters close the door and have some peace:). And Rhys, sounds like you have the answer--the sex and sexual tension must be consistent with the character! Easy, right?

ROSEMARY: I'm enjoying the image of Colin Firth with his shirt open..must Netflix that one, although I am addicted to the Keira Knightley version and seem to watch it a few times a year.

The one serious comment I got from my editor on my first book, Pushing Up Daisies, was "take out the sex." Okay, I rather expected her to nix the masturbation scene. But it was one sentence along the lines of "she found that spot most men couldn't find with a GPS and rocked herself to sleep." Pretty tame. Same for the two person sex later in the book. Paula and someone - a man - getting frisky in the greenhouse. No body parts mentioned, just a litle heavy breathing on a potting table. I did take the offending sentences out, to no ill effects, but I thought it rather ridiculous that I could kill off five characters, including impaling one on a garden implement, but not let my single, straight heroine have protected sex. She still hasn't after four books and I can tell you, she's GETTING CRANKY.

Which fictional sleuth? Easy, Jack Reacher. He'd be great and then he'd be gone in the morning.

RHYS: So you can see we writers tread a fine line, and we're never going to please all our readers, or our editors for that matter. And my choice for the sleuth with whom I'd like to spend the night? Morse. I think he deserves a good woman once in his life!


  1. I like some romanace in my mysteries. Including sex when it's time - the endless tension can make a reader "cranky", too. But sometimes the build up works better than the payoff. I love the relationship in Spencer-Fleming's Clare Furgesson series and wanted to see them get together but the scene where it finally happened just didn't ring true for me. Disappointing.

  2. In my Orchard Mysteries, the protagonists have been, um, getting together since book two. I'm still waiting for someone to complain. Of course, everything takes place behind closed doors.

    Unlike Linda, I thought Julia Spencer-Fleming's scene was well worth waiting for (after five books!).

    And Ro, for some reason I can't shake the image of Stephanie Plum "self-regulating" in the shower.

  3. OH, yes, Reacher. And Morse. And Roderick Alleyn.

    Speaking of which, I just heard I'm on Lee Child's website.
    SO funny...

    Anyway, Rhys, I think that's a good question. SOmeone asked me once if I could write a romance without a mystery--and I said: What would they talk about?

    But writing a mystery without romance? Not if the characters are human beings!

  4. I've heard a lot of discussion about that moment in JS-P's wonderful series. Interesting how controversial it is.

    Yes romance. No, please no explicit sex. It's right up there with the extended descriptions of setting among the parts I skip.

    I opened a book with a post-coital moment once. Someone should have saved me from myself.

  5. I like relationships and sexual tension in the novels I read as well as the ones I write. Once the deed is done, the romance isn't as interesting to read about, for me at least. And I have a secret crush on Lord Peter Wimsey!

  6. I'm with Hallie. I can do without the explicit descriptions--although my current WIP gets steamy in parts--but I LOVE the sexual tension. It's an important balance, so thanks for the thoughts, Rhys.

  7. I think every female crime writer wants their female protagonist to have a one-night stand with Jack Reacher. Makes me want to throttle Alafair Burke, er, Samantha Kincaid . . .

    As far as sex in mysteries, since I write romantic thrillers I'm expected to include an explicit love scene. But 6-8 pages in a 450+ page book is pretty tame compared to most out there. I still get some complaints from mystery readers who don't want any sex, and some complaints from romance readers who want more "relationship" and less violence.

    I just think what you said in the post about whatever happens must be true to the character.

  8. I'd love to write sex, but I'm not allowed. In DIY 4, Mortar and Murder, I snuck in a reference to sharing the same bed - "I rolled over into the warm spot left by his body," - and was amazed when it wasn't cut in the edits. But I'm afraid that's as far as I'll be allowed to go.

    Me personally? Oh, gee... Lord Peter Wimsey had it going on, by all accounts.

  9. Great question! My novels fall more into the suspense realm than a traditional who-done-it, so dalliances don't take time away from the clues. However, I believe that romance and sex work best in a story when they add tension and intrigue. Love in a dangerous situation often means there is more at stake.

  10. First, thanks for the Colin Firth reminder, Rhys. sigh.
    I enjoy sexual tension in a mystery as long as it doesn't distract from the mystery. Hank writes it beautifully. My characters flirt.
    I loved the sexual banter of happily married Nick and Nora Charles. No worrying if they'll end up together - they WERE together. I wonder if anyone besides Hammet could make a happy marriage interesting?

  11. I'm about to try and make a marriage interesting as Molly Murphy is planning her wedding in Bless the Bride. So will she be allowed to continue her work as a detective? Should prove interesting, and challenging.

  12. Interesting question. I don't miss it when it's not there, and if there's too much it puts me off.

  13. Oh, thanks, Rochelle! ANd what a lovely group today! Hi make me miss you all..

  14. I don't have a sleuth I'd like to be with. I guess I'm hard to please. :)

    I don't mind reading explicit sex scenes as long as it helps the story. Having sex scenes just to have sexual content is crude and boring. IMHO