The Cultural Gutter

unashamed geekery

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Chris Szego
Posted June 7, 2012

Recently, I’ve been thinking about danger.  Specifically, the kind of danger that runs through a certain subsection of Romance, often called ‘romantic suspense’.  These are the stories that drop the hero and heroine into physical jeopardy in addition to exposing them to all the emotional risks of falling in love.  When done well, they share the same sense of breathless excitement of a good movie thriller.  When poorly written, they’re overwrought, melodramatic, and annoying.

What draws that line?  For me the first criteria is that the characters must face real peril.  If the threat to their safety and/or lives isn’t genuine, the resolution of it can’t be either.  Second, the situation must be more than just the background against which the characters move.  The crisis should add to and change their relationship.  Immediate physical peril provides natural narrative tension.  Skilled writers use that framework to illuminate the depth and complexity of human relationships.  Lesser talents… not so much.   Here are some of those writers best able to use danger to bring depth to a developing Romance:

The Forbidden Rose, Joanna Bourne

In the time of the French Revolution, William Doyle is England’s best spy.  Margeuerite de Fleurignac is displaced noblewoman who smuggles other aristos out of the country one step ahead of the mob. In the languid countryside and the bloody streets of Paris, they foil each other’s plans, save each other’s lives, and fall desperately in love.

This is Scarlet Pimpernel territory: convoluted plots; disguises; daring last minute escapes.  It’s also a real war-time romance.  Choices are stark, and hard, and weighted in every direction.   Bourne gives us all of that in some of the most delightful language around.


Forever Blue, Susanne Brockmann

Navy SEAL Blue McCoy is back in town for a family wedding, when his stepbrother is murdered, and Blue is accused of the crime.  Lucy Tait is the cop assigned to the case.  The crush Lucy had on Blue years ago is nothing compared to the way they feel about one another now, but it might not matter.  Some pretty nasty people don’t want the truth to come out, and they’re prepared to do just about anything to stop it.

What sets this book apart is that both hero AND heroine have physically demanding and dangerous jobs.  Both are routinely prepared to put themselves in harm’s way, not only for each other, but also for those in their care.  It adds extra oomph to a short, fun thriller.


Cover of Night, Linda Howard

Cate Nightingale is a widow with two young boys who runs a B&B in a small Idaho town.  She knows Calvin Harris only as the soft-spoken handyman who helps her keep her business running smoothly.  Then a mysterious guest vanishes in the night,leaving more than a mystery in his wake.  First, Cate is attacked in her home by men searching for that guest’s belongings.  Calvin routs the gunmen with an ease that shocks her into seeing beyond his quiet demeanor to the tough and competent man beneath.  And then things really go to hell.

Although they’re not involved in all the action, Cate’s twin boys are a big part of the story.  Motherhood informs all of Cate’s actions and choices, and many of Calvin’s.  Plus, there are real world consequences.  People die, and it matters.


Dream Lake, Lisa Kleypas

Alex Nolan has a problem.  Zoe Hoffman might be part of the solution.  But when I saw what Alex was facing my first thought was, “Girl, run!  Don’t look back!”   Zoe doesn’t, of course, and I’m grateful.  I loved this book, which I don’t want to say too much more about, because I read it as an ARC and it doesn’t hit stores until August*.  Suffice it to say that not all dangers are external.

Some of our worst damage is self-inflicted, emerging from our weakest moments and ugliest impulses.  Kleypas brings us through that dark and tangled forest with her usual grace.


Angels Fall, Nora Roberts

Reece has already survived one horrifying ordeal.  So it seems particularly unfair, as she slowly puts her life back together in a small Wyoming town, that she should be the only witness to a murder.  In fact, the local police cannot even find the body, and begin to wonder if Reece is quite as recovered as she thinks.  The only person who believes her is Brody, a gruff mystery writer who sees past the secrets Reece is keeping to the heart underneath.  Oh, and the murderer, of course, who menaces Reece in increasingly terrifying ways.

The is the danger of the stalker, the evil that hides in waiting.  Brody, unsociable, impatient and yet intensely curious, is a good foil for Reece, who is a lot less fragile than she thinks.  There’s also a lot of good food, which always elevates a story for me.


The Shape of Desire, Sharon Shinn

What if the biggest danger of all is simply the danger of discovery?  That’s the basis of Shinn’s powerful new contemporary novel.  Maria fully participates in the modern world.  She drives a car, charges her cell phone, and charts the landscapes of office relationshiops.  She also loves Dante, passionately and absolutely.  More than enough to keep his devastating secret: he’s a shape-shifter who spends much of his time in animal shape.  But when a string of brutal murders is linked to deadly animal attacks, Maria faces the possibility that her lover may be even wilder than she has ever imagined.

This is the terror of the familiar made strange, of the disjoint between the mundane world and the mysteries that lie in every human heart.  Plus, you know, Sharon Shinn.


Crave, J.R. Ward

Issac Rothe is a former black-ops soldier, currently surviving in the undergound fighting circuit.  Targeted by an assassin, then accused of murder, Isaac’s only hope is in public defender Grier Childe.  Classy, upper class Grier is nothing Isaac has ever experienced, and everything he wants.  Grier feels the same, drawn to the shuttered and deadly Isaac in a way she’d never thought possible.  But their enemies are anything but ordinary, and dying might be only the start of their troubles.

Crave is the second in Ward’s series about an ongoing fight between heaven and hell, in which angels and demons use humans as proxies.  The framing story of supernatural machinations adds an extra layer of danger to this one.  Because the good guys aren’t as far ahead as one might like.


*Why yes, I am gloating, why do you ask?


Chris Szego can handle danger.  If by ‘danger’ you mean ‘watching the scary parts in movies’ and by ‘handle’ you mean ‘closing her eyes and plugging her ears’.


3 Responses to “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”

  1. Carol Borden
    June 7th, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    and that bruce cockburn song is now lodged in my brain!

  2. Chris Szego
    June 7th, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

    You can use the Barenaked Ladies version if you want. But the Cockburn’s better.

  3. LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit
    June 13th, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

    […] READ THE ARTICLE>> This entry was posted in Books & Literature and tagged LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME. Bookmark the permalink. ← Dark Lady of Kung Fu […]

Leave a Reply

  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    At Bleeding Cool, Cap Blackard writes about the contested homeworld of Howard the Duck. “If you’ve seen the much maligned Howard the Duck film or read any Howard the Duck stories published since 1979, you’re probably familiar with the concept of Duckworld. You know, an alternate Earth where everyone is ducks and everything is duck-themed: Ducktor Strange, Bloomingducks, etc, etc. Sounds like a recipe for a finite barrel of bad jokes, right? It is, and it’s also not Howard’s real point of origin. During his landmark initial run, Howard’s creator Steve Gerber had the down-and-out duck hailing from a world of talking animals, but all that changed when Gerber was kicked off the book and Disney flashed a lawsuit. Now, after decades of backstory fumbling, Mark Waid has reinstated Howard’s point of origin in a one-shot issue of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Thanks, Mark!)


    At The Village Voice, Jackson Connor writes about the making of The Warriors. Amid the refurbished boardwalk and laughter of children, it’s easy to forget that Coney Island was once a place where tourists did not venture. For much of the latter half of the twentieth century, street gangs dominated this neighborhood. They ran rampant through the area’s neglected housing projects, tearing along Surf and Neptune avenues toward West 8th Street. Those gangs, or gangs like them, and that incarnation of Coney Island would form the backbone of author Sol Yurick’s 1965 debut novel, The Warriors, about the young members of a street gang. More than a decade after the novel’s publication it would be optioned and, eventually, turned into a major motion picture of the same name.” (via @pulpcurry)


    Edith Garrud taught Suffragettes jiu-jitsu and formed Emmeline Pankhurst’s Bodyguard. “The first connection between the suffragettes and jiu-jitsu was made at a WSPU meeting. Garrud and her husband William, who ran a martial arts school in London’s Golden Square together, had been booked to attend. But William was ill, so she went alone. ‘Edith normally did the demonstrating, while William did the speaking,’ says Tony Wolf, writer of Suffrajitsu, a trilogy of graphic novels about this aspect of the suffragette movement. ‘But the story goes that the WSPU’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, encouraged Edith to do the talking for once, which she did.'”


    At Playboy, Jake Rossen writes about the story behind the filming and the restoration of Manos: The Hands of Fate. “For a long time no one wanted to see it unless it was accompanied by MST3K’s taunts. Then, in 2011, a collector of film prints uncovered the original negative of Manos and embarked on an inexplicable project to restore the film with all the white-glove attention archivists give to Hollywood classics. His efforts would incur the wrath of a mysterious man with a fake New Zealand accent named Rupert, as well as Joe Warren, Hal Warren’s embittered son, who intends to preserve the Manos legacy at all costs.” (Thanks, Ed!)


    At Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill!, Todd reviews the two part Ghanian director Ninja’s film, 2016. “2016 is a movie that I am obligated to review by virtue of my having long ago joined the internet chorus of people trumpeting on about its insane trailer—and this despite the fact that all of you with any interest in seeing it have most likely tracked it down already. In that case, you already know that it is essentially a no-budget remake of Independence Day set in the suburbs of Ghana. And if that sounds like a massive over-reach to you, you obviously know very little about Ghanaian action cinema, and even less about the films of maverick multi-hyphenate Ninja.”

    Read about part one, here, and part two, here.


    Look, it’s the trailer for “The Abominable Snowman” a new episode of classic Thunderbirds. Huffington Post UK has more: “It’s exactly half a century since we heard the ominous tones of voice actor Peter Dyneley bringing us the Thunderbirds intro ‘5 -4 – 3 – 2 -1 Thunderbirds are go’, and to celebrate, the team are producing three brand new original episodes, based on audio-only recordings made in 1966, which means fans will get to enjoy the original voices, with some 21st century gadgetry thrown in on screen.” (Thanks, Todd!)


  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.


  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: