Untrue Romances

I am writing this on Valentine’s Day. Call me sappy (or, perhaps, unable to think of a better topic) if you wish; however, we should consider our favorite couples in fiction (as opposed to fictional couples, a plethora of which exist in the real world!) even though we will be a day late and dollars short of V-Day by the time you read this.

Please permit me to take the plunge first. No one comes close to Spenser, the world’s most self-satisfied detective, and Susan Silverman. Each installment of Robert B. Parker’s iconic series (which lives on through the immense talent of Ace Atkins) is propelled by dialogue, and Dr. Silverman’s ability to match her tough-guy boyfriend line-for-line makes for great reading indeed. I will confess that in my own day-to-day conversations (though never in my stories) I have with abandon misappropriated sentences (nay, paragraphs!) which originally sprung from the mouths of both of these characters. Naturally, my favorite book about their relationship is A CATSKILL EAGLE, where Susan and Spenser kind of, sort of break up for a book or so. This gives Spenser an excuse to get truly medieval, and he does.

How many Spenser books are there? Dozens, at least.  Accordingly, my second-favorite romantic pairing is an angst-laden one, played out over the course of but one book. The couple would be Johnny and Sarah; the book would be THE DEAD ZONE by Stephen King. It’s not necessarily one of King’s best books, but it is one of many favorites, and the relationship between these two very nice people is one reason why. Their courtship is cut short when an automobile accident puts Johnny in a seemingly eternal coma. Sarah, sort of understandably, moves on after a decent interval and marries a decent enough guy, though King indicates here and there that the gentleman’s ancestry just might include a sphincter (or two) and maybe even a plastic device for holding a certain vinegar and water concoction.  She is comfortably though not necessarily happily married when Johnny comes out of the coma. The book is not so much about their romance as it is about Johnny’s psychic powers, but the back and forth between Johnny and Sarah throughout the story as they look but can’t touch and then say what-the-heck, let’s touch anyway, is worth the price of admission all by itself. THE DEAD ZONE, by the by, was nominated for, but did not win, the 1980 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.
Now: your turn. Any romantically linked couple in fiction, in any media, is acceptable (though if you tell us Batman and Robin…), and please explain why. And Happy Valentine’s Day, wherever you are.

27 thoughts on “Untrue Romances

  1. Nick and Nora, The Thin Man, both book and film. They always seemed to be having so much fun. Next time you catch one of their movies, especially the early ones, see if you can match them drink for drink.

  2. Once upon a time I probably could have, catfriend! I don’t remember that element in the movies, I’ll have to check it out. No wonder they got along so well!

  3. Heathcliff & Cathy in Wuthering Heights by Bronte is a couple I will always love. Their love is so intense that they consume each other. It’s a haunting unforgettable story.

    On a more contemporary side, I love Odd Thomas & Stormy Llewelyn by Koontz. Koontz wrote the first book so well that it turned into a much beloved series. They both had quirky unigue humor, but felt so connected that as a reader, you totally believe they’re real, or want them to be. I don’t want to have spoilers here, but I think if Koontz had known how popular Odd turned out to be, he would’ve rethought book 1.

    • Good morning, Jordan! What really bothers me is that…though I have read both Wuthering Heights and Odd Thomas…I can’t remember any of those characters. Oops. Can my car keys and wallet be far behind? I will have to refresh my recollection of both books!

    • I cried reading Odd Thomas & it hooked me for the series. I recommended it to a male customer of mine (when I worked in the energy industry) & the guy had to reread it, he liked it so much. Odd’s humor is an amazing voice.

    • Jordan, I cried too. That first book was such a kicker. I read the rest of the series, and they’re all good (Odd’s voice is awesome), but I don’t know that any measure up to that first one.

  4. Joe, I’m gonna go with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Even though they were real characters, not fiction, the press at the time made them bigger than life folk heros far exceeding their real life. It was a relationship built on lies and smoke heaped on tragedy and fear with an ending darker that Romeo and Juliet. Romance fail.

    • That’s a great out-of-the-box pick, Joe, perfectly captured, I thought, by the Beatty-Dunaway chemistry. I might have to watch that again this afternoon.

  5. Myron and Jessica in the Bolitar series by Harlan Coben. Myron is funny, adorable, and sensitive. Jessica is beautiful, tough, and selfish. Their chemistry comes across strong (due to good writing) but their future is always up in the air. Excellent repartee.

  6. In TV, I only have three words:

    Mulder and Scully

    I tried to catch some of that vibe in my WIP, I hope I was successful.

    In books, I’m still working on it. I seem to choose books, genres, and writers where the romances are all disasters or too perky to live (am I the only one who was supremely tired of Jack Ryan’s perfect wife by the third or fourth book?)


    • Interesting choice, Terri, though I would expect no less! 🙂 I thought that they drew the thing out just a bit too long, but I’ve always been a cut-to-the-chase guy, to my detriment more often than not. There’s another television couple I keep waiting for people to mention, but I’ll wait a bit before mentioning them. Thanks!

  7. Though Travis McGee, in his own words, “cut a wide swath through womanhood” I really liked his soulmate Gretel Howard. MacDonald’s series often reflects the chauvinism of its period but McD’s women characters were always vividly rendered. And in Gretel, Travis met his match. Sadly, she dies (I forget which book) and Travis is never quite the same.

  8. I want to say that The Green Ripper is the book where Gretel dies, Kris, though I could be wrong. Great choice. I read the books in order they were published and it was a real shock when McDonald took Gretel off of the board. Thanks.

  9. Joe–
    For me, both as a writer and a reader, I can’t forget the challenge Elmore Leonard set himself–and met–in OUT OF SIGHT, when he created the improbable romance between U.S. Marshall Karen Cisco and career bank robber Jack Foley.

    • Barry, I’m totally with you on that. Leonard could set that attraction of opposites thing up like no one else quite could. He also was good at pairing a “two” up with a “ten.” I miss the guy.

  10. With full acknowledgement that some may say “I never thought Basil would’ve read those” I must mention the two most enduring fictional couples that stick with me:

    Father Ralph de Bricassart & Meghan Cleary – Thornbirds


    Henry DeTamble and Clare Anne Abshire
    The Time Traveller’s Wife

    That’s love…

    • Basil, if you liked those…see if you can find a copy of THE BODY by Richard Ben Sapir (yes, the guy who co-authored the early Destroyer novels with Warren Murphy). It’s an engrossing story but there’s a heartbreaker of a romance in there as well.

      I recently came across the statement —
      and I regret that I can’t remember where —
      to the effect that people commit suicide for two reasons: they have something they don’t want and can’t get rid of, or want something that they can never have. Just so.

  11. Yes, Thorn Birds is a total classic. That also brings up Rhett and Scarlett.

    So, I’d ask a secondary question, what makes a good romance? My thriller morphed into romantic suspense territory. They just wouldn’t stay apart. While my betas are chewing on it, I am working on a short historical adventure that will also turn into a romance.

    I like lots of spicy conflict and then coming to discover and lust after the unknown qualities and strengths that are revealed by the story.

    For example, in the historical, the two characters meet when she is pointing a shotgun at him.

    Oh please, Joe, like that hasn’t happened to you . . .


  12. Well, Terri, it has happened to me but it’s been 1) at the end of the relationship, not at the beginning and 2) it has not always been a woman aiming the shotgun.

  13. Believe it or not, Tuppence and Tommy, a pair of minor Agatha Christie characters who showed up as young kids solving a mystery and falling in love, We didn’t see them again again until they were a middle aged couple, and finally as seniors, still sleuthing.

  14. Joe, sorry I’m late to the party (as usual). I think my favorite pairing will always be Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. Their back-and-forth rivals any other pairing in fiction, romantic couple or not (for me, at least). Throw Bubba Rogowski in the mix, and as Patrick says in book 5, they could “out-glib the Marx brothers.”

    • No worries, Jake! The party never ends and doesn’t start until you get here, anyway! I enjoy the repartee, light hearted and otherwise, between Kenzie and Gennaro as well. If Lehane favored us annually with a new book in that series I wouldn’t be at all unhappy.

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