Kiss Me or Kill Me: The 20 Best Romantic Suspense Novels

Picture a genre fiction Venn diagram. One circle represents suspense, the other romance, and the overlap contains the intriguing world of romantic suspense, in which two seemingly disparate elements, danger and desire, are successfully merged into one irresistible story. The ratio between the amount of suspense and romance as well as the manner in which both of these elements are deployed can vary considerably as the selected titles below aptly demonstrate. But at its core, every romantic suspense novel must contain some measure of both ingredients, which ultimately is why this hybrid subgenre is so popular with both romance and mystery readers alike.

Classic Titles

The literary roots of romantic suspense grow deep, reaching all the way back to the eighteenth-century gothic novels of Horace Walpole, Matthew “Monk” Lewis, and Ann Radcliffe. The Brontë sisters brought the gothic side of the subgenre in the nineteenth century with their classic romances, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and the twentieth century saw another resurgence in the popularity thanks to such stars as Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Barbara Miichaels, and Phyllis A. Whitney.

Here are two standouts:

Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart

When Englishwoman Linda Martin arrives at Chateau Valmy to take on governess duties for young Philippe Valmy, she begins to suspect the number of accidents that plague young Philippe are being engineered by his cousin Raoul, who is trying to eliminate Philippe in order to claim the title for himself.

Beginning with the publication of Madame, Will You Talk in 1955, Stewart wrote a string of romantic suspense novels that would not only earn her a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Romance Writers of America but also several Edgar nominations from the Mystery Writers of America. With its echoes of Jane Eyre, Nine Coaches Waiting (1958) is Stewart’s deft nod to gothic side of romantic suspense.

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

When the second wife of Maxim de Winter arrives at her new home of Manderley, she discovers the place is still haunted by the presence of the first Mrs. de Winter: the beautiful and enigmatic Rebecca. From its unforgettable first line to the novel’s shocking (especially for its time) conclusion, Du Maurier’s now classic novel set the standard for romantic suspense that has yet to be surpassed. It’s no surprise that this classic has never been out of print since it was first published in 1938.

Modern Day Masterpieces

While suspense and romance are the main ingredients in every successful romantic suspense novel, clever authors writing today find ways to make their tales distinct. Suzanne Brockmann turned to the U.S. military for inspiration. Laura Griffin gives her Tracers series a CSI vibe with a team of forensic experts as her heroes and heroines. Katee Robert’s O’Malleys books feature a Boston-area crime family. No matter what frame the best romantic suspense writers choose, each can be counted on to deliver the kind of adrenaline-laced, potently passionate stories fans crave.

Most of the titles below are the first, or nearly so, of stellar, long-running romantic suspense series. These tales of suspense and attraction are as varied as the subgenre’s fans; readers devour the books in quantity and live for the next in their favorite series. Other titles are stand-alones by mega-popular romantic suspense authors.

Against All Odds, by Irene Hannon

FBI hostage rescue team member Evan Cooper is doing his professional best to keep Monica Callahan safe, but Monica simply refuses to make things easy for him. This is the first in Hannon’s award-winning Heroes of Quantico series.

The Cove, by Catherine Coulter

After her arms-dealing father is murdered, Sally Brainerd flees to a small Oregon-coast town, not realizing that FBI agent James Quinlan is hot on her trail. The Cove launched Coulter’s FBI thriller series in 1996, a series which is still going strong with Labyrinth, book number 24, due out in July.

Danger in the Shadows by Dee Henderson

Danger in the Shadows, by Dee Henderson

Being in the witness protection program means staying under the radar, but now Sara Welsh is doing the unthinkable and bringing attention to herself by falling for famous former football player Adam Black. This prequel launched RITA Award-winning Henderson’s O’Malley series, which features a group of abandoned and orphaned teens, who form their own version of a family.

The Darkest Hour, by Maya Banks

When Ex-Navy SEAL Ethan Kelly learns that his wife, Rachel, whom he believed is dead, is actually being held hostage by a nasty drug cartel in the South American jungle, he has no choice but to find and rescue her. With this adventure, Banks’ launched her sexy and suspenseful KGI series, which feature a super-tough group of guys and gals who handle jobs the U.S. government can’t.

Extreme Honor, by Piper J. Drake

Military vet David Cruz is doing his best to help rehabilitate Atlas, a military K-9, whose previous handler died in combat, and the last thing he thinks he needs is any help from “dog whisperer” Evelyn “Lyn” Jones. This is book one in Drake’s True Heroes series, which focuses on a veteran hero and the canine he trains or rehabilitates.

The Fearless King, by Katee Robert

In order to keep her father from getting his hands on her family’s business, Journey King pretends to “date” her business rival Frank Evans, but what begins as a fake courtship soon heats up into something much more real and dangerous. This is part of Robert’s Texas-set King family books, all of which offer readers plenty of off-the-charts sensuality and potent danger.

The Fixer, by HelenKay Dimon

Emery Finn holds Wren Upton responsible for her cousin’s disappearance 13 years ago, so he had better find a way to fix the problem pronto by helping her find out what really happened. This is the starter in Dimon’s RITA-Award winning Games People Play series, which she dreamed up as a way of delivering sexy, suspenseful stories that don’t involve “undercover agents, law enforcement people, serial killers, explosions, or gun battles.” The latest is The Protector.

Hell on Wheels, by Julie Ann Walker

Ex-marine sniper Nate “Ghost” Weller has done his best to keep things icy cold between himself and his best friend’s sister, Ali Morgan, but when Ali gets into trouble with a dangerous international organization, things begin to heat up between them. Walker launched her writing career portraying sexy guys and gals on motorcycles in Hell on Wheels, the first in her Black Knights, Inc. series, which includes Built to Last (2018).

Hush, By Karen Robards

Riley Cowan knows her estranged husband, Jeff, didn’t commit suicide, and now the killer is desperate to retrieve the money Jeff’s father stole and the only person Riley can rely on for help is FBI agent Finn Bradley. Perennially best-selling Robards began her writing career with historical romances but now focuses exclusively on romantic suspense.

Low Pressure, by Sandra Brown

Eighteen years after her older sister Susan’s death on a stormy Memorial Day, Bellamy returns home to Austin to see her parents. When news leaks that her best-selling novel is based on Susan’s murder, Bellamy fins herself in the crosshairs of the killer. Brown, who has served as president of The Mystery Writers of America as well being named Thriller Master by the International Thriller Writers Association, was inspired to create this tale by her own life in Tornado Alley.

 The Night Is Mine, by M. L. Buchman

Night Stalkers air squad pilot Emily Beale finds herself clashing professionally and personally with commander Mark Henderson when the two must work together to protect the First Lady. Buchman based his Night Stalkers series, of which this is the first installment, on the real-life U.S. Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, SOAR, “the best helicopter aviation flyers on the planet.”

The Obsession, by Nora Roberts

As a young girl, Naomi Bowes helped to bring her serial killer father to justice, but now nearly two decades later, someone obsessed with her father’s crimes begins targeting her. If anyone deserves the title of Queen of Romantic Suspense it is Roberts, whose RITA Awards for best romantic suspense have earned her a place in the Romance Writers of America’s Hall of Fame. Also writing as J.D. Robb, Roberts has put a futuristic spin on her brand of sexy romantic suspense with her long-running series featuring NYPD Lieutenant Eve Dallas. Connections in Death (2019) is the forty-eighth title!

Say You’re Sorry, by Karen Rose

As the only woman to have encountered the serial killer and live to tell about it, talk-radio host Daisy Dawson is exactly the person FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds needs to help him find this monster. Rose has racked up two RITA Awards and multiple nominations for her intense brand of romantic suspense. This title launches her new Sacramento series.

The Unsung Hero, by Suzanne Brockmann

Because he is recovering from a near fatal head injury, Navy SEAL Tom Paoletti has a difficult time convincing anyone except Dr. Kelly Ashton that he has spotted an international terrorist in his small New England hometown. This launched the Troubleshooter series by RITA award-winning Brockmann, who has helped breakdown barriers in romance fiction with her African American and gay heroes.

Untraceable, by Laura Griffin

Private investigator Alexandra Lovell helps her clients “disappear” from dangerous situations, but when one her latest goes missing for real, Alex turns to Austin homicide detective Nathan Deveraux for help. This is the first in Griffin’s Tracers series about an “elite group of forensic experts who help homicide cops and cold case detectives solve the most unsolvable crimes.”

Virtue Falls, by Christina Dodd

After growing up believing that her father was responsible for murdering her mother 20 years earlier, Elizabeth returns home to Virtue Falls in search of the truth only to find she has put herself in the sights of the real killer. Over the course of her long and impressive literary career, RITA Award-winning Dodd has written historical, contemporary, and paranormal romances but now focuses on edgy and sexy suspense stories.

Vulnerable, by Mary Burton

Forensic technician Georgia Morgan and homicide detective Jake Bishop find themselves working closely together when the body of a woman found in the woods proves to be connected to a cold case involving some missing teens. Part of the author’s Morgans series, Vulnerable is an excellent example of Burton’s gift for blending richly nuanced characters with bone-chilling suspense.

When All the Girls Have Gone, by Jayne Ann Krentz

Charlotte Sawyer hires struggling new private investigator and former criminal profiler Max Cutler to find her stepsister Jocelyn, who has vanished without a word. When it comes to romantic suspense, Krentz is a triple threat. As Krentz, she writes contemporary tales; as Amanda Quick she delivers historical romantic suspense; and as Jayne Castle, she puts a futuristic spin on her brand of romantic suspense.

About the Author:

The Romance Writers of America 2002 Librarian of the Year, Charles has been reviewing romances for Booklist since 1999 and is the author of Romance Today: An A to Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance. After working for the Scottsdale Public Library System for 30 years, Charles retired and went to work for Scottsdale's independent bookstore the Poisoned Pen, where he still gets to push books but has to deal with far fewer computer questions.

10 Comments on "Kiss Me or Kill Me: The 20 Best Romantic Suspense Novels"

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  1.' Irene Hannon says:

    Thank you for including Against All Odds, John. Even ten years after its release, it continues to be a reader favorite.

  2.' Carol Thomas says:

    You should check out Brenda Novak’s Evelyn Talbot Chronicles. You won’t be sorry, they are an amazing series of books set in remote Alaska, about Dr Evelyn Talbots dealings with a serial killer. Beginning with Hanover House the kick off with a different publisher, then continuing on with Her Darkest Nightmare, Hello Again, Face Off, and Blind spot due out August 27,2019.

  3. Great list! Thrilled to find one of my titles on it. Thank you. I do love this genre. I’ve been reading it all my life and it just gets better.

  4.' Aldwin Ronan says:

    All we know that whenever we talk about the Romantic Novels there is a small smile on everyone face and you did a good job to provide these Romantic Novels. Thanks for giving us such a beautiful collection.

  5.' Theresa says:

    Hey, you forgot Phyllis A. Whitney, who wrote a plethora of romance mystery books. Georgette Heyer also writes historical romance, but she also writes some very good whodunit’s with a dash of romance always thrown in… love them.

  6.' jazz says:

    This is the best website ever i came accross about romantic books..thanks alot

  7.' Hel Stone says:

    Oh, this is so gorgeous. Those novels have changed my life forever.

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