Title: Love is Murder
Editor: Sandra Brown
Publisher: MIRA Books
Series: Thriller #3
Other Reviews for this Author/Editor: None
Romantic suspense and I have a short history. Most of it involves me attempting to read a romantic suspense book or two and failing. Recently, after having read a few mystery novels, I realized that I did like the suspense aspects of novels and wanted to see them combined with romance - but, as many readers find, it's a hard balance to work with. Some authors focus more on the suspense elements, others on the romance, and in most cases the stories that actually fit in the romance genre fall somewhere in the middle. Love is Murder is an anthology that features both romantic suspense, suspense with romance, and balanced stories that cross the two genres. While very few of the stories reach a level of balance with the two elements, many of them are solid stories that fans of the genres will enjoy.
The strengths of the anthology involve the sheer amount of stories that are presented. With over twenty short stories presented, Love is Murder offers its readers a lot of variety and chances to try new-to-them authors. Many of those authors are romance writers, and a good number of them are writers who write for the traditional thriller/suspense market, such as Lee Child. The variety gives readers a chance to sample all types of romantic suspense and suspense with romantic elements. Several big-name authors are included in the anthology and provide a level of assured entertainment for some readers, but many of the authors are ones who are not so well known to people who do not read suspense. The downside to such a variety was that the stories did not always feel like a cohesive anthology collection. Despite sharing the general thriller/suspense theme, there were a few stories that either A) did not feel like that matched the genre at all, or B) thrived too much off of a paranormal element for me to feel that the romance and suspense aspects worked for the story.
Stories that fell into the former category were stories like "Poisoned" or "Last Shot". These types of stories just didn't live up to the expectations that the anthology initially provided. "Poisoned" has an interesting premise but delivers a weak ending that is a traditional twist-ending for a short story. The twist ending is one that's common and is more of a cop-out than anything creatively interesting. Not only that, but the actual suspense feeling of the story doesn't come through because of it. A romantic suspense story is about feeling that there are high stakes and that, up until the last moment, things can turn deadly. The story focused on this but totally lost steam with how it wrapped things up. "Last Shot" completely misses the mark and doesn't remotely feel suspenseful. The story feels more like a morality tale with a tacked-on happy ending than one that uses suspense elements. At all. It's a stretch to even remotely classify this story as featuring a suspenseful part, let alone featuring a suspense plotline. It revolves around the concept of wishes and having them granted - something that is a very common short story trope to begin with. Totally missing the theme and feeling of the anthology, it as a story particularly disappointed me as a reader.
The latter category was less of a disappointment because, on some level, the stories with supernatural elements still stuck to the theme of the anthology. The anthology does not directly mention the inclusion of paranormal stories, yet it also does not deny the existence of such stories, either. The problem was that most of the stories with paranormal elements did not read as being balanced. Dianna Love's "Deadly Fixation" was a story that attempted to combine suspense, paranormal, and romance elements all in one, and it just didn't work. Suspense and paranormal elements both require a type of world-building, and in Love's case the story just wasn't large enough to fit everything that she wanted to fit. The introductions to creatures and the explanations of politics all felt overdone, as they all tried to build a very large world by using excess exposition and details. None of the world building felt smooth or continuous, and it distracted from the story more than anything. Another short story, "Hot Note", just used really obvious conventions and fell flat with its execution on the paranormal front. A few other stories used established paranormal suspense worlds or kept the paranormal elements to a basic level, such as a heroine who could see the future. These stories had marginally better execution, and part of that was because they didn't focus so much on pushing the paranormal elements so much as letting them flow seamlessly into the rest of the story.
A few stories in the collection stood out as being particularly skilled and entertaining, however, serving to counteract the stories that really didn't do it for me. Roxanne St. Clair's opening story, "Diamond Drop", had a surprising amount of sexual tension involved. It wasn't an HEA romance, but it was an HFN that delivered a fun story with an interesting hero and heroine. "Grave Danger" by Heather Graham also delivered an enjoyable story that coupled suspense with romantic elements. It had a tiny hint of paranormal in it, but nothing that would really classify it as a paranormal story. It had a sufficient amount of suspense, a creepy setting, and a good sense of timing within the story. Lee Child's "LI Heard a Romantic Story" provided readers with a different, stream-of-consciousness style experience that was creepy. It bent the mind a little bit more than the other stories because of its unusual style, but it ended the anthology on an unusual note that kept it memorable. The best story, by far, was William Bernhardt's "After Hours". Though not a genre romance, its suspense plot wove in a lot of detailed themes about sexual identity, gender identity, and the meaning of love. Surprised? I was, too. The story isn't romantic suspense, but it's darn good suspense that attempts to say something powerful and different in its short story format. It's probably the most memorable story of the collection because of it. The writing is clear and readable, focusing instead on the poignancy of the story being presented.
There were many stories that fell in the middle. Story's such as Mariah Stewart's, which was fun to read but obviously ripped from the headlines and needed more length to flesh out its characters. Stories like this were the bulk of the anthology, and at least a few of them would have been better if I had read the author's loosely connected series to it, such as Sherilyn Kenyon's story featuring characters from her B.A.D. Agency series. Those types of reads in anthologies always get me because they are constructed well enough, yet they are only ever memorable if the reader has read the series that they are connected to. It's very rare for me to connect with stories like this. Other stories just took traditional plot-twists or didn't have much of an impact on me beyond finishing them. The suspense elements were well-written, but at times ran together between stories, and the romances (when they were present) were not bad. Readers who read a lot of suspense will probably find more of the stories to their taste - or, on the flip side, they may find a lot of them repetitive.
Love is Murder is a solid anthology for people who enjoy reading suspense stories. More of the stories rely on suspense than romance, but they all provide varying levels of entertainment - ranging from problematic stories that you really hate reading or get annoyed with to stories that make you think, "Wow." The collection is pretty average on the whole despite some of its stand-out stories, and it provides a great look at the varying tropes and aspects of the romantic suspense and suspense/thriller genres.
Cover: I enjoy the way the model is within the text of the title and seems all sexy and aloof, yet it's not a cover that would stay in memory.
Rating: 3.0 Stars (average rating)
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review. (Thank you, Meryl L. Moss Media and MIRA!)