In 2004, I won an EPPIE (now the EPIC awards) for my book “Harley Street.” I won the Romantic Suspense category. It shocked and delighted me. Delighted is obvious. Shocked? Because I’d always thought of “Harley Street” as a historical romance. But when it came to enter the EPPIEs, I had three books to go in, and I didn’t want them to compete against themselves. So since “Harley Street” involved solving a murder, I decided to try the romantic suspense category.
“Harley Street” is part of my Richard and Rose series. The whole series is about one couple, and follows them through the course of several years, from their meeting in “Yorkshire,” to their final confrontation with their enemy in “Lisbon,” a book that hasn’t yet been published. The series consists of eight books, and while each book has a separate story, it also has an overarching tale, too, when Richard’s past comes back to bite him.
I was a bit tired of historical novels about reformed rakes, as though finding the one true love and reforming negated all that went before. Richard made the cold-blooded decision to become a rake, to run through as many of society’s women as he could and to destroy lives, after society condemns his brother and sends him abroad for what at the time seemed like a lifetime’s exile.
So it was ironic that the event that has consequences that nearly kills Richard and his beloved Rose happened before that career, when he was only fourteen.
I wanted to be true to the age of the story. The events all happen in the 1750’s, a time of turbulence for Britain, a time when constant wars, new inventions and the development of philosophical thought helped to change the way people thought and acted and paved the way for the new world of the French Revolution and industrialisation. I’ve always been drawn to this period, and I decided to concentrate on one aspect of it when I told Richard and Rose’s story – the development of the modern police force, and the changes made to criminal law. Because in the 1750’s, the two Fielding brothers, magistrates at Bow Street, started to campaign for a real police force, something the populace had constantly opposed, as they didn’t want a “police state,” as we might put it.
It all sounds very worthy, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. Britain, and in particular, London, was a wild place, with several ‘rookeries,’ or no-go areas for the authorities, where criminality ruled. Streets of unbelievable filth, because where the authorities didn’t go, neither did the night-soil men, and the other people who helped keep the city reasonably clean and habitable. There were some criminal masterminds, but wipe the thoughts of the romantic outlaw out of your head. The most famous was Jonathan Wild, who ended on the gallows, but in his time, had informants, informants on informants, whose stock in trade was betrayal. Not a romantic figure at all. So I created a wannabe Jonathan Wild, someone who had more ambition than maturity, and set him against Richard, who wanted reform, but also wanted a few years of tranquillity when he could make his peace with the world and spend some time with his beloved Rose.
He first becomes aware of the identity of the person out to get him in “Harley Street,” when he and Rose return from their honeymoon in Venice. The three previous books hold hints of what is to come, but in “Harley Street” it comes to fruition. Rose finds a dead maid in the house of her great aunt, and when Richard arrives, he recognises the dead person as an ex-lover from long ago. It soon becomes obvious that coincidence has little part in this tragedy, and if he and Rose aren’t to end up dead, then they have to solve this one.
So what is romantic suspense? Blowed if I know.
I recently started to write a story aimed at Harlequin Presents set in New York and Naples, Italy. But from the start it seemed a little too edgy for the line. For a start, the heroine is an ex drug addict, trying to reinvent her life. But I continued to write the book, about her reconciliation with a man from her past, but what draws them together is his search for the body of his brother. So they find him. Then the firebombs start to arrive. Then I stopped writing and realised I had more on my hands than a simple romance. I did some research. Then I did some more, and I found that a casual remark by my hero had led to a firestorm of revenge and violence. Until I started to write, I hadn’t realised that the gangs in Naples used the port as a place to distribute knock-off goods over Europe and the United States. I knew the gangs of Naples had morphed from the mafia of old to something different and even more threatening and dangerous. I never thought I’d write a book about that.
But I rewrote the book, giving up all thoughts of the Presents line, replotting and rewriting. It was huge fun to write, and I kept my central couple well into the action. It became “Learning to Trust” which comes out from Carina this November. Then at the end I had a character who had fascinating possibilities. Was I planning to write his story? my editor wanted to know. You bet.
So I meet another character in this book who deserves a story. I can’t believe a trilogy has come out of this book, and I’m so pleased the Carina people are so enthusiastic about it.
I still don’t know what Romantic Suspense is, I only know that I write it.
Lynne Connolly http://lynneconnolly.com