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Hard-boiled or Soft-hearted?

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, you might not be associating romantic love with crime noir. A reader of POISONED JUSTICE wrote to me saying that Riley—the (anti)hero of the story—reflects the genre’s typical tough guys: “chick magnets who appreciate the various parts of a beautiful woman but without any warmth.”

While that seems a bit cold, my writing reflects the aesthetic of the hard-boiled detective. The reader went on to say: “Carol was a delicious character [but being lesbian is quite unavailable to Riley], and so was the woman behind the desk in the LA hotel. I figured he’d get back to her—yes I’m a romantic.”

I’m a romantic as well. After all, the setting for the Riley mystery series is San Francisco, the city where Tony Bennett left his heart. And this was the destination of a drive across the desert from Albuquerque in 1982 with my new bride on our very romantic and very frugal honeymoon.

If you doubt my sentimental inclinations, check out this short YouTube interview about POISONED JUSTICE and why I chose San Francisco (from minute 1:00 to 2:00 says it all: ).

The classic, pulp fiction characters (Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, and Sam Spade) lacked steady girlfriends and romantic inclinations, let alone 35-year marriages. But one of the joys of genre fiction is bending and subverting the form.

Some recent noir-style mysteries have incorporated relationships between a detective and a strong, smart woman (not the dame or femme fatale of earlier works). Consider Robert Parker’s series featuring Spenser (who was, by the way, born in Laramie) and his romantic partner, Susan Silverman, a psychologist who loves Spenser but cuts him no slack.

In my second book (coming this fall), Riley falls in love with a woman who is beautiful but not pretty and fierce but not brutal. Her Spanish/Native American parentage contrasts with and complements his Irish ancestry as both take pride in their heritage. She’s an ex-cop who left the force to move up into federal law enforcement, while he was kicked off the force and moved down into extermination. Like Riley, Nina is approaching middle age and trying to shape life on her own terms.

Is my next book a romance novel? Far from it! But does the reader find that the hard-boiled detective is also soft-hearted? Well, maybe—at least when he’s more than met his match.

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