What are the 5 best murder mystery book series that feature romance? I’m glad you asked. I know the song says that “Love is all you need,” but truthfully for me, it’s not quite enough. I like my love stories littered with corpses. I’m all for love. I’ve been in love for 30 straight years, but there’s other stuff going on in my relationship. (Like video games and watching tons of British detective shows.)
I don’t have the patience for too many romantic complications. I prefer couples who team up to figure out who killed the mysterious blackmailer or just what the hell is making that noise in the pipes. I’m also a lover of mystery series. Willie Wonka may think that one is enough for anyone, but I disagree.
If you’re like me, this is your lucky day. I’ve got what I consider to be the 5 best murder mystery book series that add a little romance to the mix. Your mileage may vary but I will tell you that my librarian used to tell me that she used my checkout history to pick a new book series because I had such good taste.
Let’s count them down.
Robert B. Parker’s Spenser Series
Robert B. Parker loved the hell out of his wife. The couple had a complicated relationship (they ended up living in a duplex so that they could be both together and have some space) anchored in love. The intense romantic love and respect they shared are reflected in the relationship between the tough and fiercely autonomous private investigator Spenser and his therapist girlfriend, Susan.
Even when she only plays a small part in the actual mystery, her importance to both the character of Spenser and his creator is hard to miss. There’s a line in one of the novels where Susan tells Spenser, “You look at the world with fewer illusions than anyone I’ve ever known. And yet you are as sentimental as you would be if the world were pretty–pretty.”
That’s a fantastic summary of Parker’s work. Hard-boiled and sentimental. There are 39 books in the series
written by Parker. Another author picked it up after his passing, but I prefer to stop there. Susan is not in the first book, so I give you permission to skip it.
His work inspired me both as a reader and a writer.
David Handler’s Berger & Mitry Mysteries
The story of a heartbroken widower meeting up with a tough-talking state-trooper
is a favorite of mine. Both characters are fish out of water in a small Connecticut seaside town. He’s a New York film critic looking for a place to hide from sympathetic friends and she’s a black woman in a sea of old-money Yankees.
Do these two opposites attract? You betcha! Does the small town have a higher murder rate than a Colombian slum? Of course, it does. I like these books because they explore the small New England village theme without getting too cutesy. I like the love story because it feels very adult (not in the bom chicka wow wow way).
J.D. Robb’s In Death Series
This series has been out for well over 20 years. Even though I’m an avid reader, I missed it up until about three years ago. J.D. Robb is a name that Nora Roberts writes a the In Death series under. These books are sexy thrillers with a little bit of a Sci-Fi twist.
Again, I’m not sure how I managed to never read any of the 50 plus books the 20-year-old murder mystery series. I read the first book, Naked In Death. I thought the sci-fi futuristic angle wasn’t handled that well. But I kept reading, mostly because I admire the way Nora/J.D. handles writing banter and fairly explicit sex. I think she walks a great line between romantic and too much information. I initially said that the series was just okay. Then, like it was a jumbo bag of Cheetos, I just couldn’t stop.
A lot of the sci-fi element consists of saying stuff like, ‘I used my future phone to call a future cab.’ The main characters are a standard tortured tough-cop and a handsome billionaire who can basically make you roll on the floor in ecstasy by unbuttoning your top blouse button. But I absolutely could not stop reading them. It’s as if Fifty Shades of Gray had an actual plot. (Don’t worry, no spanking involved)
Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey Series
Sayers wrote a lot of Lord Peter Wimsey books
, but I’m only including Strong Poison
, Have His Carcase
, Gaudy Night
, and Busman’s Honeymoon
in the love story category. Harriet Vane is a divisive character among fans of Sayers’ stories of an English lord with a bad case of nerves solving mysteries in the 1920s and 30s. Sayers created a character that she fell madly in love with, so she wrote herself into the books. Like Sayers, the character of Harriet Vane is an educated mystery writer with a scandalous past. The love story begins when Lord Peter sees Harriet on the witness stand at her own murder trial. He falls instantly in love and is determined to save her.
Sayers has volumes to say about the position of women at the time, relationships between the sexes, independence, and the nature of love and honor. These books were written in the 1920s and 30s, so you’re getting the straight scoop on how it was at the time, not filtered through the lens of today. These books are not sentimental, but the mysteries are solid and the relationship between these two extremely logical people trying to make sense of love is endearing though sometimes frustrating. As I said, these were written in the 1930s. While, in some ways, Sayers was forward-thinking, in others she is constrained by notions of class and the roles of men and women of her time.
Decades after Sayers’ death, author Jill Paton Walsh
picked up the series and finished some of Sayers’ unfinished works. I have to say, she did a good enough job for me to recommend these later books as well. Though they clearly see the time period through a modern eye.
Sayers acknowledged her critics in the introduction to Busman’s Honeymoon, saying that while the love story might seem like an intrusion on the mystery to some, to the character the mystery is an intrusion on the love story. No need to apologize, Dorothy, it was no intrusion at all.
Cyn Mackley’s Goode-Grace Series
This cozy series set in a small Ohio farming town features realistically draw characters than turn some common mystery tropes on their ear. Trinity Goode is a Goth chick trying to come home to the small town that rejected her as a teenager because she was too weird. Deputy Bobby Grace is a handsome lawman who’s sick and tired of folks telling him he’s too straight-laced.
The two old friends reconnect while trying to solve the murder of Trinity’s grandfather. You’d expect Trinity to be a fish out of water, but it turns out she’s a church-going, quilt-making, cake-baking country gal who shows up hard with a casserole when the situation calls for it. Their romance doesn’t feature any of the standard wacky misunderstandings but there are still plenty of obstacles… and corpses blocking this deserving pair’s road to happiness including a body in a corn maze. You always knew those things were deadly, right?