The late 1980’s TV series, Moonlighting, starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis has become notorious for more than its detective duo’s crime solving. Viewers loved the witty banter and the romantic tension between former model Maddie Hayes and private detective David Addison, but once the couple finally consummated their relationship, they—and the series—lost their spark. Romance novels usually end with “happily ever after,” too. It’s assumed that readers only care about the courtship, and not about the challenges faced by a couple navigating commitment and/or marriage. But are crime novels subject to the same rules?
Series novels give authors the perfect opportunity to explore this dangerous territory, but I worried nonetheless. My Scotland Yard detectives Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant (now Inspector) Gemma James began as partners just getting accustomed to working together in my first novel, A Share in Death. By the third book, it was clear their feelings were more than professional, and in the next few books they had to grapple with what a relationship would mean to them in their personal lives and at work. Then it was make or break time—they needed to either split up or move forward. Keeping up the will they/won’t they seemed not only unrealistic but downright annoying. But would readers agree? Gemma and Duncan tied the knot quite a few books back, and now in A Killing of Innocents, the 19th book in the series, have a blended family with three children. They are still solving cases together. Life is multi-layered and crime novels can be, too.
Here are 7 detective series that helped convince me that love and crime can make perfect partners.
Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence—the Queen of Crime wrote five novels featuring Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, who married at the end of the first book, The Secret Adversary, in 1922, and ending with Postern of Fate in 1973, when Tommy and Tuppence are retired with three grown children. This was the last book Christie wrote, and certainly proved that married detectives can withstand the test of time.
Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane—Dorothy Sayers introduced detective novelist Harriet Vane in the novel Strong Poison in 1930. Harriet is accused of murdering her lover, but Peter’s clearing of her name doesn’t bring about a happily ever after. It’s not until Gaudy Night, published in 1935, that Harriet overcomes her reservations and accepts Peter’s proposal. In 1937’s Busman’s Honeymoon we see Peter and Harriet married and learning to live together while solving a crime. Including this one is a bit of cheat as Sayers retired Lord Peter after this book, but readers loved seeing the evolution of this relationship.
Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt—The Cater Street Hangman, published in 1979, introduces Victorian Scotland Yard Inspector Pitt and upper class society lady Charlotte Ellison. In spite of the differences in their social standing, by the second book in the series the Pitts are married and they continue to combine their investigative talents through 32 books, ending with Murder on the Serpentine in 2017.
Laurie King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes—In 1994’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, fourteen-year-old orphaned Mary Russell meets an eccentric beekeeper while out walking on the Sussex Downs. The beekeeper is retired private detective Sherlock Holmes, who becomes Mary’s friend and mentor. At the end of the second novel, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, set in 1921, Russell and Holmes marry. They are still investigating crimes together in 2021’s Castle Shade, the 17th book in series. This has to be one of the most unusual married partnerships in crime fiction, and it’s still going strong.
Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne—In the Bleak Midwinter introduced veteran army helicopter pilot and Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson in 2007, when Clare takes up her first placement in the small upstate New York town of Miller’s Kill. An infant abandoned in the church porch brings her in contact with the town’s police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, and gives us one of my favorite opening lines in crime fiction, “It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.” Sparks fly and difficulties ensue, but by the 9th novel, Hid From Our Eyes, in 2020, Clare and Russ are married and sharing care of their own infant son.
Faye Kellerman’s Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus—1986’s The Ritual Bath brought together Orthodox Jewish Rina Lazarus and hard-nosed Los Angeles detective Peter Decker when Decker in called to investigate a brutal rape at a Jewish women’s sanctuary and Lazarus, a witness, helps him solve the crime. Decker begins his conversion to Judaism and they marry in the third book, Day of Atonement. In the 27th book, 2022’s The Hunt, Decker and Lazarus are still married, their children now grown, and they are still investigating crimes together.
Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy and Daniel Sullivan—In Murphy’s Law (2007) Irish immigrant Molly Murphy arrives in turn-of-the-century New York alone and friendless. Before she can leave Ellis Island, a man is brutally murdered and Molly becomes a suspect in the investigation led by police captain Daniel Sullivan. Molly and Daniel marry in book #10, Bless the Bride, and are still investigating together in the 19th book in the series upcoming in March 2023, All That Is Hidden, written by Bowen and daughter Clare Broyles.
My takeaway from these and other detective series featuring romantically committed partners is that we read series novels for more than the solution to the puzzle—we’re invested in the characters and we are in it for the long haul. I’m a big fan of romance novels and love a good “happily ever after”, but I have to confess that I always want to know what happens after the HEA. Series novels give us the chance to find out.