The Romance Dilemma By Frankie Y. Bailey


 This is the story of two sleuths – Professor Lizzie Stuart and Police Detective Hannah McCabe — and the men in their lives. Or, not.

With the good news that my Lizzie Stuart books may soon be available again, I have started wfs-coverwriting the sixth book in the series. Lizzie is a crime historian. She is the director of the Institute for the Study of Southern Crime and Culture. She was last seen in a short story (EQMM, July 2014).

Lizzie loves her work. She also loves John Quinn. In the sixth book, they will go to Santa Fe to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with his family. This first meeting with her future in-laws occurs in the early chapters of the book. Then Lizzie and Quinn head home to Gallagher, Virginia, where she plunges into trying to solve a disappearance that happened the night before they left.

That Thanksgiving trip to Santa Fe raises a question that both readers and writers of crime fiction debate. Should mystery writers avoid romantic subplots? With female protagonists, does romance tie a good sleuth down (no erotic pun intended)? Does having a long-term partner – especially if it leads to marriage – make it more difficult for a female sleuth to concentrate on the crime-solving at hand? Does the relationship raise real-life questions she needs to deal with –children, a house, life insurance, a will?

I grew up reading both literary classics and genre fiction. I read both romances and mystery novels. I loved romantic suspense. It was perhaps inevitable that when I wrote my first mystery, my female protagonist would encounter an attractive male character. In the book I was working on when I joined an old friend for a vacation in Cornwall, England, the male character was the police chief of Gallagher, Virginia. Lizzie was in Gallagher as a visiting professor, doing research on a long-ago crime. As a writing exercise, I transported my two characters to Cornwall and plunged them into an Agatha Christie-inspired murder case. John Quinn became a Philadelphia police detective, who was visiting his retired partner.

My vacation pal read the first draft of the book that she had seen me scribbling and expressed her doubts about how Lizzie and Quinn parted. After they had worked together to solve the crime, she had been expecting a “pay-off” at the end. She thought other readers would, too. I revised the final scene. Instead of “nice to have met you,” they kissed. When the Cornwall book was bought and published as the first in the series, the question I heard from readers was, “What’s going to happen with Lizzie and Quinn?”

What happened was that Quinn ended up in Gallagher, Virginia. Over the course of five books in a series that has moved slowly and is still in 2004, they have fallen in love and gotten engaged.  Falling in love with Quinn and adjusting her life to accommodate his presence has made Lizzie a more interesting character. He has certainly been useful as a source of information and access. But Quinn’s presence has presented plotting challenges. I’ve had to avoid having Lizzie end each book as a “woman in jeopardy” who is saved by her male lover. Quinn has his own career. He was out of town during a portion of one book. In another book, he was delayed in arriving in New Orleans when Lizzie went looking for her long-lost mother – and then the poor guy came down with stomach flu. I would never kill him off, and it is fun to watch the two of them negotiate their relationship.

However, when I sat down to create another female protagonist – Detective Hannah McCabe – I gave a lot of thought to whether or not she would have a serious involvement. In fact, in the first book, The Red Queen Dies, there is only one brief scene that reveals she is seeing someone. In What the Fly Saw, her attractive, slightly younger partner tries to find out about her love life when she teases him about his. She is a private person and is evasive. But, later, over a glass of wine, she shares with one of her other colleagues how her last relationship ended. She is trying to cheer him up about his relationship with his ex-wife.

Hannah McCabe is a woman in a profession that is still male-dominated (even in my near-future, parallel universe). Most of her challenges have to do with solving crime. But she is the bi-racial daughter of a liberal white father (a retired newspaper editor) and a (long dead) radical poet black mother. She works in and is a part of a traditional police culture that is paramilitary and conservative. And then there’s her relationship with her brother, Adam, a brilliant scientist. who has recently returned to Albany. When McCabe was nine years old, she shot an intruder – but her brother ended up in a wheelchair.

Hannah McCabe is a complex woman – compassionate, good at her job. There are several men in her orbit. But for now McCabe is content to share a house with her father and focus on her case-load.

Whether McCabe will have a man in her life raises some intriguing questions. Is a strong, competent woman who has romantic relationships without long-term commitments a character that readers of mystery/detective fiction can embrace? Or, do readers, particularly women readers, like to see a protagonist evolve and grow and deal with the challenges posed by being in love. Readers do often complain when characters who are attracted to each other are kept apart by the author. But are the same readers prone to boredom when couples commit and settle down?

What do you think? Should a female sleuth keep her options open or settle down with one romantic partner?  Is it a matter of allowing relationships to develop naturally as they would in real life?

f-baileyCriminologist Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September, 2013.  The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw came out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Website URL:

Twitter:  @FrankieYBailey

Amazon: What the Fly Saw







12 thoughts on “The Romance Dilemma By Frankie Y. Bailey

  1. So excited to her about What the Fly Saw. I really enjoyed The Red Queen Dies very much. And you’re right; it’s a challenge to work out what sort of romantic relationships, if any, a protagonist is going to have. I think that’s especially true for a crime fiction series, where the focus is on the crime plot.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Margot. Always good to hear that someone enjoyed a first book enough to be eager to read the next.

      Definitely a challenge. Some readers will search for hints of a possible romance, and others are purists who want their crime plots straight-up, no romance, please.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Frankie, thank you for visiting us. Romantic relationships are so hard to handle in books. You want your sleuth to stand on her own, not rely on the male in her life for ideas, level-headedness, and rescue. It’s a hard balance as a relationship grows through the series and characterization. Loved The Red Queen Dies, looking forward to What the Fly Saw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kait,

      Thank you for inviting me. You’re so right. The “woman in jeopardy” issue can annoy readers who want strong, level-headed female protagonists who don’t do stupid things. But then there’s the need for an ending that inevitably does involve some kind of dangerous encounter . . . Lizzie has gotten a lot better at taking care of herself over the years. McCabe is a trained police officer. But then there is the psychological toll of using violence. . .

      Hope you love What the Fly Saw, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can see how having a romantic interest in a mystery could be distracting, but I like to read mysteries that do have some romance. The female protagonist can always help the male in different ways so she doesn’t seem dependent. But the affection can also make the reader care more about the plot and get more deeply involved. Married female writers find a way to deal with their husbands and still write although it can be difficult when your guy wants to do something else and you want to write. Each of you has suggested ways to move the love interest out of the way when necessary. This is a very good post. The male writers usually fill their books with hot women even when there is a love interest. Why can’t women do it too if they want. The protagonist doesn’t have to be “tied down” all the time, LOL that was a funny one Frankie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, MJ. I like your observation about married female writers, the same for unmarried female writers with men in their lives. Male writers — as I know from the men in my blogging group over at Type M for Murder — also have their challenges with finding time for other jobs, writing, and family. But I would guess that most women who write also spend time engaged in traditional female tasks such as housecleaning. My characters do.

      In Lizzie’s case, she is now doing some official consulting with John Quinn, who is now a partner in an security/investigation firm. He directs the “cold case” unit.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Frankie! Thanks for guest-posting on our humble blog. Wow, you have quite the resume with the mystery/crime organizations. And your body of work sounds intriguing. I haven’t read any of your books (YET), but from your post I can tell you’ve created many-faceted and complex characters.
    In my Mac McClellan Mystery series, Mac meets and falls for Kate Bell in book one. Over the course of four books their relationship has grown, but not without its bumps and bruises (figuratively speaking, of course). Kate wants to (and does) help Mac on his cases as she can, while Mac wants to keep her out of harm’s way. Mac lives in a campground with his Doberman, but often spends the night at Kate’s house. He’s mentioned the “M” word a few times, but Kate doesn’t want to go there. When Mac bought beach property with an eye to their future, Kate insisted on paying half, saying she “wouldn’t be a kept woman.” So, there’s a strong love thread running through the books, but it’s balanced by conflict which is tempered by humor.
    My sleuth is a guy, so I can’t really speak for a woman sleuth. But I believe Mac and Kate are letting things iron themselves out naturally the way they would in a real-life scenario. Thanks again for the wonder post, and please know the MMO welcome mat is always out for you! 🙂


    1. Thank you, Michael.
      Not so humble website. I love the look of it, and I’m enjoying reading the comments.

      Your own series sounds like one I would enjoy — romance from a male perspective with a woman who is independent. Will look for your books.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Frankie, I did have Mac McClellan in mind (mind-reader Michael) when I made the comments and I think Michael just gave a pretty clear analysis of how his mysteries work regarding romance. There is a strong bond between Mac and Kate and she can turn on the big freeze pretty quick when he’s annoying. She is moved out of the story line at strategic times and I have enjoyed reading the series for the fun of it – and there is some laugh out loud humor in all of them – and for picking apart how he does it. I’m fascinated by how other writers structure their work and yours sound sooo interesting.

    Just remember boys will be boys regarding Mac. His alluring ladies are fun and sometimes sinister characters but he does spend time running away from many advances. Ah, the conflicted male psyche. Part of the allure of men is their boys will be boys attitude. And it’s also the reason they get hit over the head with skillets. Poor Mac.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a timely post for me, on a topic I’ve wrestled with — not so much from a planning perspective, because from the inception of my series (the Rollin RV Mysteries) I knew I’d have a married couple as main characters. Betty, the wife, has so far been the point of view character, but I do toy with the idea of giving Walt, the husband, tell us a story at some point.

    I didn’t know how a pair of sleuths would work — neither of them with a background in law enforcement, btw, but they felt true to me, so I went with it. And I’ve gotten some wonderful comments from readers about how much they appreciate the relationship Walt and Betty have in the series. It just so happens I just yesterday got a message from a woman who will be reviewing my book for a major RV magazine who said when the review copy arrived her husband “glommed onto it,” insisted on finishing it, and couldn’t stop raving about it (I’m guessing I’ll get a good review from her!). This, to me, is the best response I could ask for.

    Sorry to go on, but while I love Mac and Kate (for example), I also am happy readers are accepting of a couple as sleuths, with their own tricky road (sometimes literally, in my series) to navigate. I’d think you’d have to be very careful with the convention of a sleuth in a romantic relationship — you don’t want it fall into predictability.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s