TRSI Ep 005: What is Romantic Suspense? J.D. Robb’s Apprentice in Death

What is Romantic Suspense?

Reviewing J.D. Robb’s Apprentice in Death




In this episode of the Romantic Suspense Insider Podcast, I’m going to start off looking at what makes a book romantic suspense as opposed to either a straight romance novel or a mystery.

The idea came during a discussion with my sister who is a librarian at our local library.  I have been a huge fan of J.D. Robb’s futuristic In Death series for several years.  What I found interesting is that the paperback version of these books (by Berkley) all list them as romantic suspense while the library puts the hardbacks in the mystery section.  This has been one of my pet-peeves for quite some time.  I spend too much time digging through books trying to find a romantic suspense.

I think the main delineation between a mystery and a romantic suspense is the balance between the relationship and the solution.  In a mystery, the solving of the crime is paramount over everything else.  In a romance novel, we’re looking at the couple pairing up and what’s preventing them from being together.  In a romantic suspense, we depend on both of these.  The couple must grow together, and their relationship must change as the story goes on.  They are kept apart by some force, very likely the mystery that they need to solve.  But there is a balance; it’s almost like having 2 plots in the book and both need equal billing.

The Romance Writers of America (RWA) distinguish between romantic suspense and mystery/suspense with romantic elements.  The major point is based on how important the relationship between the 2 characters is to the story.  If it is a minor point, the story would be classified as mystery with romantic element.  If it is a driving point (maybe even the main point) then it becomes romantic suspense.

Let me use a few examples.  A few weeks ago I reviewed a mystery, Murder on Blake Hill (see the review here).  Now this mystery had a couple that were directly involved; he was  the detective and she was a journalist.  There were a few love scenes in the book but the primary focus of the story was solving the case of the murders that had occurred.  On the other side, the book I’m reviewing later in this episode, Apprentice in Death, has several murders and does focus on finding the killer.  But an equal amount of time is spent on Eve’s relationship with Roarke and how they navigate the concept of marriage and friendship.

In both cases, great books, great stories each have love scenes and a couple devoted to each other.  But their classifications are very different.

Title:  Apprentice in Death

Author:  J.D. Robb

Publisher: Berkley

Release Date: September 6, 2016



The year is 2061, and a sniper is taking down victims in New York City in what appears to be a random series of shootings.  NYSPD homicide detective, Eve Dallas and her partner, Delia Peabody, are faced with the task of finding the shooter.  Eve has help from her billionaire husband and reformed-criminal, Roarke.  Roarke creates a computer program that quickly tells the detectives they are dealing with an Long Distance Serial Killer.

The detectives call in many of their comrades, Captain Feeney and Detective Ian McNab (Peabody’s main squeeze) from the Electronics Detective Division, along with Dr. Charlotte Mira and a few others to help them understand what is driving their LDSK so they can get ahead and apprehend the killer.


My Opinion:

I really enjoy the In Death series, and Apprentice in Death was no different.  It would have been a one sit read except for a medical emergency keeping me from sitting with the book for the needed 3 hours.  It will be one I will be purchasing in hardcover for my collection.

The characters of Eve, Roarke, Peabody, McNab, Feeney, Mira, and many others are ones that we have grown to love over the past 21 years and the life of this series.  They have been formed and expanded as needed over the time, so by the time we see them in book #43 of the series, they are extremely well developed.  I would guess that many of the In Death fans have a pretty clear picture of their favorite characters, and may even have some fanfics about them as well.

The setting, NYC in 2061, is apt enough.  There is enough description that you can imagine yourself there (if you’ve never visited NYC) but not enough to send those of us who have perpetual nightmares about big cities over the edge.  Readers have to remember that this series is set roughly 45 years in the future, so there may be some changes that are purely artistic license.  Likewise, some of the technology that is commonly used throughout the book may seem far-fetched right now, but most of it I think would be well within the realm of possibility.  For example, from the beginning of the series (1995, Naked in Death) Eve routinely uses a communicator that lets her see and talk to someone.  I’m not taking the time to look up when the iPhone came out that gave us this technology, but it wasn’t too long after.  Likewise, in 1902 we hadn’t yet had powered flight but 45 years later by 1947 we had some of the most historic fighters ever made flying.  I’m not going to get twisted about the idea that cars can go vertical in this story, or that the weapons of choice are lasers as opposed to guns.

The language and heat issues in this book are about normal for the series.  The characters tend to use some cursing, but it isn’t used just for the sake of using it. Most often it occurs when something dramatic has just happened or there is an argument between characters.

The heat level for this book may actually be lower than normal.  There was only one main love scene that was really described in the book.

Overall, I loved this book, and would highly recommend it.


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