As a general rule, I love to read. Biographies, sci-fi, children’s books, mysteries, romance … if it tells a great story, I’ll read it. But life is busy, politics are divisive, and headlines are heartbreaking. So I read romance, where at the end of any grandiose, dramatic, heartbreaking story, the main characters find love, and there’s hope for happiness to come. And if romance is my go-to, then romantic suspense is my kryptonite.
So often the the plots in romantic suspense are larger than life, the characters full of swagger and confidence. They’re intelligent, brave and adventurous. The bad guys are Bond-level in their madness: there’re terrorists, kidnappers, drug runners, saboteurs, gangs, the mob, military coups, scientists, WMDs, first responders, SEALs, CIA, and more! Here are some suggestions to get you started, ranging from a couple of my perennial favorites to hot off the press! This is my list of romantic suspense juggernauts:
Dyer was a new-to-me author when I read this a couple months ago, and I’m hooked. Here’s a story ripped from the headlines, with a special forces soldier, William Bennett, in an operation gone wrong, held in captivity and tortured. Rescuing him is Cooper Reed, soldier, sniper and spy … who is maybe not totally on his side. They have to overcome their suspicious natures to trust each other to get home. This is a life or death struggle, and it’s addictive. This is a book you can’t put down.
When a character wakes up in a pool of blood with no memory of how they got there, I’m hooked. And when the person waking up in the blood is a Deputy US Marshall being set up for murder, oh, god. This is a nail-biter, with great characters. Marshall Angel Larson has to rely on a former protectee for help, which gives this suspense a fresh twist.
Rachel Grant is a professional archaeologist-turned-novelist, with a penchant for badass heroines, smart science, tense geopolitical savvy, and setting a breakneck pace. There isn’t a bad Grant book among the lot. Tinderbox kicked off her Flashpoint series, set in the Djiboutian desert. When archaeologist Dr. Morgan Adler discovers artifacts that date back to the dawning of homeosapiens, which would mean an immediate halt to the Ethiopian railway expansion, she becomes a target. Taking her bones and fleeing to the closest source of safety—US military base, Camp Citron, is her only hope. Only, when she’s met at the gate by Sergeant Pax Blanchard, minutes before her car explodes, everything changes. This is a sexy adventure that I would pit against any Indiana Jones or Lara Croft movie.
Katee Robert has a solid stake in the sexy contemporary market, but The Hunting Grounds is tense! We’re big hikers in my family, and are working our way through the national parks across the nation. I can tell you that I don’t want to run across a dead body when we’re on the trail, particularly if it’s the victim of a serial killer. The forest ranger who found the body is former FBI agent Maggie Gaines, who groans when her former FBI partner and training officer from the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), Vic Southerland, comes to take over the case. Their attraction is palpable, but so is Maggie’s sorrow for her reason for leaving the FBI. But instincts are instincts, and as an FBI agent you either have them or you don’t. Being a forest ranger doesn’t diminish the instincts she has, which is why Vic has no problem counting on her when they’re in the killer’s site. The equitable traits of both Maggie and Vic make this a keeper. Doesn’t hurt that it’s an intense suspense.
Like Rachel Grant, Toni Anderson is another smart, field scientist-turned-novelist—only, she’s a marine biologist. She has a long-running series (Cold Justice) that’s fantastic, but my favorite Anderson suspense is Edge of Survival. Lots of things in the world make a person vulnerable, particularly when you’re a female biologist leading an environment impact assessment team for a large mining project in the remote northern Canadian bush, and a dead body is found on the first day. But what sets this story apart, for me, is the fact that Dr. Cameran Young has diabetes and is heavily reliant on her medication and the need to keep her body running smoothly and efficiently. The very nature of her medical issues combined with the remoteness of the setting make it tense. Cameran is paired up with former SAS Sergeant Daniel Fox, who lives in this remote corner of the world because he doesn’t want to be around people. And he certainly doesn’t want to be around a woman who must rely on him … for anything. Theirs is a volatile spark of attraction that’s like sticking your finger in an electrical socket. I love this book.
Zanetti is a writing machine. She is a prolific author with multiple books, in multiple romance subgenres, and everything she writes is just spectacular. I’d love to shrink myself down like the Wasp and get inside her mind to see what it’s like. Deadly Silence is the first book in her Blood Brothers series, which actually picks up a couple years after the events of the Sin Brothers saga. Ryker Jones is one hot-ass alpha hero with a strong notion of what family should be. After all, he and his two foster brothers created an unbreakable bond during their years in hell. They’ve created the Lost Bastards Investigative Agency and help people who are at their wits end. He lives across the hall from, and has been having an affair with, Zara Remington. It suits them both, because when he’s in town he spends time with her, and when he’s gone, she’s busy with her own life. But then she started cooking for him, a lost boy with no family, and that was all she wrote. Deadly people from Ryker’s past have been in pursuit of he and his brothers for years, and the more he sticks around, the more vulnerable he is (and the more vulnerable he makes Zara). When the forces collide, it’s explosive. This is an exciting, action-packed story with evil doctors mixing DNA and supersoldier genetics, secret military programs and corrupt military officers. It’s basically literary crack.
Shadows at Midnight by Elizabeth Jennings:
Elizabeth Jennings is a pseudonym of Lisa Marie Rice, who writes really sexy contemporary and suspense books. But as Elizabeth, the focus seemed to have been more on the suspense. Shadows is one of my favorite books because of the heavy political element to the story. The romantic suspense genre is full of CIA agents and shadow agencies, but most often the agents are men. Here, Claire Day is the intelligence officer, present at the bombing of a US Embassy in Laka, West Africa. She’s nearly killed, suffering near-mortal wounds and a traumatic brain injury that wipes out a chunk of her memory. As flashes of memory force her to begin to put the pieces back together, she learns about former Marine gunnery sergeant Daniel Weston, who was with her during the attack. Together they track down the culprit for the government coverup, and fall in love in the process. I could read this book every week and still enjoy it.
All the Queen’s Men by Linda Howard:
This 2011 era of romantic suspense is my ‘golden era,’ when I fell in love with the genre. It’s full of great books from Howard, and authors like Cherry Adair, Susan Anderson, Tara Janzen and Catherine Coulter. All the Queen’s Men is my go-to recommendation for people who have never read romance or romantic suspense. It’s my O.G. To begin with, John Medina returns and is as shadowy and secretive as ever. He’s kept watch over CIA communications expert Niema Burdock for the last five years. You see, Niema and her husband were on an op with John when her husband was killed, and she shut down. Now John needs her expertise, and has decided she’s hidden away from life long enough. And, she’s had five years to find someone else to love. But she hasn’t, and now it’s his turn. I. Love. Everything. About. This. Book.
The romantic suspense genre isn’t for sissies or the faint of heart. Great romantic suspense stories have robust characters who overcome great odds to save happiness and save the day, with complex, sexy heroes and intelligent, capable heroines. Great romantic suspenses have exciting pacing, with dangerous plots and breathtaking twists and turns. Reader, a great romantic suspense will get your blood pumping and shift your heart into overdrive. I’d venture to say they’re good for you. Think about it: do you want to go run a 5K, or read a really satisfying romantic suspense?