A recent issue of Mystery Scene magazine (Number 109, 2009) featured an article titled "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: Romantic Crime Films, Part 1," by Art Taylor.
Reading that article got me thinking about romance in the crime novel/mystery; and more than that it got me thinking about love and how it is handled in modern mysteries. Now, I admit that I personally do not need any romance or love interest in a book; in fact, some of the best mysteries feature those now-paradigmatic loner types who actively avoid romance and love. But many readers do like a romantic element, and certainly love triangles of the Stephanie Plum-Ranger-Morelli type keep readers coming back for more.
And this is where I go back to my list (which I discuss with friends sometimes) of the "Top Ten Useful Things I Learned in University." A lot of the stuff I memorized for exams is long gone, but there are things that have stayed with me, from a variety of different classes. I first heard the term "conspicuous consumption" (Thorstein Veblen) in a sociology course, and just having that phrase has opened my eyes to a lot. From psychology, I have really internalized Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which I think explains a lot about human behavior and motivation. Freud may not have gotten all of it right, but I think he was dead-on with a lot of his defense mechanisms, which I see every day (projection, denial, rationalization, and reaction formation seem to be particularly prevalent).
From a philosophy class I remember the six types of love set forth by Rollo May. For those of you who haven't read May, I do recommend his work because it breaks down the various components of love, and I think an understanding of these can be quite helpful to the mystery novelist. They are as follows:
1. Eros. This is passionate love -- the love based on chemistry and intense physical attraction. In mysteries, we often find eros taking place between our likable heroine and some guy whom she really does not like as a person, but whom she finds herself sexually drawn to. Certainly that's not an uncommon phenomenon in "real life" (and applies similarly to men sexually drawn to women they do not like), but other than that, I don't think we find a lot of real passion in mysteries. Can you think of mystery characters who fit into this category? I'm thinking Eve Dallas and Roarke from the J.D. Robb series. Robb has managed to keep their relationship tastefully and realistic erotic for the series, I think.
2. Ludus. This is love played as a game. Those who love the thrill of the chase, the game of cat-and-mouse, the challenge of getting someone into bed are ludic lovers. Needless to say, this type of love leads to a fair amount of promiscuity! Our heroes and heroines don't tend to be ludic lovers; but our genre has more than its share of ludic villains, those heartless but sensual people who use people for their own sexual purposes or titillation. I think Stephanie Plum may qualify as a ludic lover, for she certainly has been mind-f***ing both Ranger and Morelli for 15 books now (or is it 16)? I think readers may really take to ludic protagonists as a sort of vicarious thrill and think our genre could benefit from more of them.
3. Storge. This is love based on friendship. These people may not have an abiding physical passion, but they have deep bonds of friendship and partnership. For me, the archetypal storgic lovers are Henry and Emmy Tibbett in the Patricia Moyes series; Henry and Emmy may never kiss or hold hands (certainly they never have sex), but they have a good, happy marriage and serve as helpmeets to each other. Ngaio Marsh's Roderick and Troy Alleyn seem deeply storgic to me.
4. Mania. This is, for lack of a better term, crazy love. And let's face it, love has made us all crazy at one time or another, and I bet we could all provide a long list of friends who are in relationships that we view as wacko. This is the type of love characterized by obsession, compulsion, insane jealousy, neurosis...all those great psychological problems that are so much fun to read about. At the subtle end of this spectrum, I find the relationship between Elizabeth George's Thomas Lynley and his wife to be a bit manic, as they do seem to have a great deal of contempt for each other underneath their supposedly romantic exterior. At the blatant end, we can think of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. If you ever want to see manic love in action, read Djuna Barnes' Nightwood, which is not an easy read (and isn't even a mystery) but really does show how love can make a person crazy. No longer are our serial killers crazed loners; rather, they now have a love interest who gets sucked into their vortex. Whether this is realistic, I do not know; but it makes for good fiction.
5. Pragma. This is pragmatic love; pragmatic lovers come together on the basis of a rational decision that they are right for each other: He will be a good provider, she will be a good mother and keep a clean house (or some such criteria). I can't think of a lot of pragmatic lovers in today's protagonists; maybe because, from a fictional perspective, it seems so boring. A relationship based on pragma doesn't have a lot of ups and downs or a lot of drama; it just sort of bubbles along like a babbling brook, not really disturbing anyone. For this reason, it's probably not much fun to read about.
6. Agape. This is charitable love--love of humanity. To borrow from another discipline above, probably only those who have achieved a level of self-actualization in Maslow's hierarchy can get to a point of agape. Like pragma, agape wouldn't be much fun to read about in suspense fiction. I can't even think of any fictional scenarios that would use it to good effect. Certainly villains have no agape in their hearts; and protagonists ruled by agape might seem so uber-human that we wouldn't be able to relate to them. Though, come to think of it, perhaps those protagonists who decide to investigate out of a need for justice, or to bring succor to a loved one, act out of agape.
There is a seventh type of love (if I am remembering this correctly) called philia, which is "brotherly love"--our love for friends and family. Philia does play an important role in mysteries, I think, because the supporting cast is usually tied via philial bonds to the protagonist. And a good supporting cast is essential to a good reading experience!