Love and Murder

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

After a wee bit of drama last week and the flooding of the downstairs of our house, I am finally back to blogging – and I love that I get to blog on Valentine’s Day! It’s not just because I am a hopeless romantic, it’s also because I think writing an emotion such as love is one of the trickiest things to do well.

In crime fiction ‘love’ can connote a whole range of things from sexual chemistry and romance to justification for murder. To make such a complex emotion believable can be a major challenge. I’ve lost count of the number of crime novels I’ve read that were great on action and suspense but a real let down when it came to love. Handled badly, it’s an emotion that can be soppy and overwrought or just plain gag-worthy. Handled well and a reader can’t turn the pages quickly enough. Love is compelling. Just look at the novel Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – for all it’s flaws, it handles the emotional angst and pain of teenage love skillfully and readers have responded accordingly.

One crime author that I believe handles love exceptionally well is Tana French. I have read all three of her books, In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. Each, I feel, really handles the facets of love to great effect. In her book Faithful Place, she captures the sweet yearning of young love and the devastation of loss – making the crime in the novel all the more poignant. I think that many mystery and thriller writers could take note of Tana’s use of emotion to make their own books richer.
What does she do, that helps propel her evocation of love beyond the banal?

Well, in my mind it is her ‘evocation’ that is all important. She doesn’t simply tell you about the emotions stirring within her characters, she shows you it in every observation and interaction.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I thought I would offer just a few tips on writing about ‘love’ –

  • Make it unique to the characters. Avoid the cliches ‘eyes like deep pools’ or the stock standard ‘hate at first sight’ approach. Make the characters emotions uniquely their own. Think of the subtleties involved in falling in and out of love.
  • Be restrained – Crime fiction is not romance fiction and I truly think most mystery readers prefer ‘love’ to take a back seat to the crime aspects of the story. That being said I think a well-drawn relationship can add depth to a mystery and there’s no doubt that love is one of the greatest motivations for crime as well:) Nonetheless, I do think that the standards are different and that emotions can be more heightened in a romance novel than in a mystery or a thriller. It’s a fine line between ‘heightened’ and ‘overblown’ and I think to be successful in describing ‘love’, less is often more!
  • Evoke the sense of love- nothing indicates depth of emotion that heightened sensory awareness. I love reading novels that bring these senses to the forefront so the reader starts to suspect a character’s emotions from their sensory appreciation of sight, sounds and smell;

  • Have realistic sex scenes. The most amazing sex ever starts to get a bit dull even in the best of books – far more interesting to make the event as realistic as possible (though not many readers probably want to read about truly boring, horrible sex!).

What other tips would you add to the list – which crime novelist do you think handles the emotion of ‘love’ best?

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!