A Crime Fiction Valentine’s Day:
The Best (And Worst) Book Boyfriends (And Girlfriends) of Crime Fiction
Love it or hate it, it's that time of year again: Valentine's Day is here. Now, whether or not you actually like this holiday, it sure does make the perfect excuse to revisit some favorite “Book Boyfriends” and “Book Girlfriends” in crime fiction—including some of the most twisted examples of love gone very, very wrong. Today’s roundup will highlight a few of the best (and worst!) relationships in crime fiction - from the tragic and endearing to the darkly funny and disturbing.
I'm not usually a reader who likes romance in my crime novels, so this roundup will look at relationships of all kinds. Whether examining the relationships between friends, married couples, or even a man and a ghost (seriously!), interpersonal tensions and drama can make for some of the most gripping crime fiction out there. Whether you're in the market for a psychological thriller with a strong romance angle or a story of friendship turned to obsession, you'll find the perfect Valentine's Day crime read here!
Crime Fiction's Best Book Boyfriend...
As Seen In: Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series
Ah, Harry. When will I not take the chance to remind you just how fantastic Jo Nesbø’s infamous character is? If you’ve already read these books, you don’t need me to remind you of this… but if you haven’t read a Harry Hole book yet, do yourself a favor and grab one now. (You can read my Beginner’s Guide to Jo Nesbø if you need help figuring out where to start with these books!)
Harry Hole is a police officer in Oslo, Norway. Over the course of Nesbø’s internationally-bestselling series, Harry faces off against all manner of criminals, delving into the underbelly of idyllic Oslo and facing the worst of humanity. While Harry’s investigative skills are nothing short of fantastic to observe, what really sold me on this character (and continues to sell me on him, with every new book that releases in the series) is his constant inner battle between his better nature and his personal demons. Harry is the best kind of example of a “damaged detective.” He has some qualities that seem standard for many crime fiction series protagonists (he’s an alcoholic and he rejects authority more often than not), but in Nesbo’s masterful hands, these qualities never feel inauthentic or tired. Harry is one of a kind, and his vivid character development has earned him a legion of fans worldwide. Harry’s good heart is matched only by his personal suffering, and readers will cheer for him, cry for him, and find him more and more endearing with each Harry Hole book they read. Bonus: If you’re a reader who loves a good relationship to cheer for in your crime novels, wait until you meet Harry and Rakel—they’re my personal favorite example of “star crossed lovers” in crime fiction, and I will never stop wanting them to just have a peaceful, happy life together. (Spoiler: that's unlikely to happen, but a girl can dream.)
… And Crime Fiction’s Worst Book Boyfriends (And Girlfriends)
Not all relationships are destined for a happily-ever-after. Love gone wrong can make fantastic fodder for crime writers, whether the love in question is romantic love or love between friends. In these picks, we’ll explore a selection of crime fiction’s most memorably bad relationships—from the darkly funny to the genuinely twisted.
As Seen in: YOU by Caroline Kepnes
Is there any single character in modern crime fiction more representative of love gone wrong than Joe Goldberg? First introduced to readers in YOU by Caroline Kepnes, Joe Goldberg is an absolute nightmare of a man... in the most entertaining way possible. Joe is deluded, manipulative, and totally narcissistic—but he’s also oddly endearing and just plain fun to read about it. In YOU, Joe (a bookstore employee) meets Beck, a young woman whom he is instantly attracted to. In his own bizarre way, Joe sets out to woo Beck, doing whatever necessary to become her perfect man. But of course, the course of true love (or totally-fabricated, totally-twisted love…) never did run smooth, and Joe finds himself up against a series of "obstacles" in his quest to insert himself into Beck’s life. Told from Joe's perspective, YOU draws readers into Joe's warped mindset, giving us a glimpse into the twisted lens through which Joe understands his "relationship" with Beck. YOU is an explicit, darkly humorous, genuinely unsettling read, and I loved every minute of it.
As Seen In: PERFECT DAYS by Raphael Montes
Coming in close second to Kepnes’ Joe is Raphael Montes’ superb (and equally twisted) character Teo, from the novel PERFECT DAYS . A medical student who largely keeps to himself, Teo has never had many friends (unless you count the cadaver he’s befriended, of course). When Teo catches sight of Clarice, he falls head over heels in love - and soon devises a plan to make her his own. Thanks to a handy little kidnapping plan, Teo soon finds himself on a road trip across Brazil with his new dream girl, convinced that it's just a matter of time before he persuades Clarice that they really are meant to be together… but Teo is going to have to stay on his toes if he wants to keep her forever. PERFECT DAYS is laced with dark humor and plenty of tension, and delivers one of the most brilliantly unjust endings I think I’ve ever read. Bonus: this book's vivid locale makes for a fantastic backdrop to the story's dark and shocking plot. // Read CBTB's Review
**** No Spoilers! ****
As Seen In: ENDLESS NIGHT by Agatha Christie
A masterclass in psychological thriller writing, ENDLESS NIGHT is my personal favorite book written by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie—and it contains a brilliant plot twist revealing just what a terrible boyfriend/girlfriend/friend one if its characters is. I refuse to spoil this book for you, so this will be short and sweet, but I’ll just say this: no one writes crime fiction like Agatha Christie, and the fact that she wrote such a dark and menacing psychological suspense novel at the time period she did - long before the heyday of unreliable narrators and shocking plot twists - just reaffirms her status as Queen of Crime. (As if it needed any reaffirming.) // Read CBTB’s Re-Read Review
Bo Luxton & Alice Dark
As Seen In: EXQUISITE by Sarah Stovell
In Sarah Stovell’s outstanding psychological suspense novel EXQUISITE, two writers embark on an illicit affair—with potentially deadly consequences. Bo Luxton is a bestselling author who hosts “writing retreats” where she teaches her craft to aspiring authors; Alice Dark is one of the aspiring authors who signs up for one of Bo's retreats. Their chemistry is instant, and their attraction soon grows into a full-blown affair. But as their shared secret threatens to destroy their personal lives - and their careers - it quickly becomes clear that one of the two women isn’t going to let their secret see the light of day. EXQUISITE does a masterful job balancing the story’s prominent romance angle with psychological suspense; there is a not-insignificant amount of romance in this book, but it’s perfectly woven into the story’s psychological thriller plot. This book is twisty, fast-paced, and all around fun to devour. // Read CBTB's Review
Agatha & Meghan
As Seen In: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham
You know that feeling when you meet someone who is so cool, you just have to be friends with them… so you lie about every aspect of your life, stalk the subject of your interest just a little, and slowly but surely ingratiate yourself to them? Wait… no. That’s not how friendship should work… but it sure is how the main character of Michael Robotham’s outstanding psychological thriller THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS approaches things. When Agatha runs into Meghan at a local grocery store, she is instantly captivated by Meghan's put-together persona, and sets out to become her friend—no matter the cost. THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is richly developed and totally engrossing. It's also psychologically-compelling, touching on the demands and anxieties of motherhood through its main characters. Though it starts a bit slow, by page 50 or so I couldn’t put this book down—and by the end,I was literally in tears over its tragic, emotional finale. // Read CBTB's Review
The Ghost of Newton Hall
As Seen In: HOUSE OF SPINES by Michael J. Malone
Imagine this: you’re an aspiring author who is struggling financially, barely able to afford rent on your small apartment. Out of the blue, you get word that a relative you didn’t even know you had has passed away… and has left you a mansion in the Scottish countryside in his will. Would you move into the house? Such is the dilemma (or non-dilemma) facing Ran McGhie, the main character of HOUSE OF SPINES. But when Ran arrives at his stunning new home, something doesn’t quite sit right with him. Come to find out, there’s a vengeful - and seductive - presence haunting the house, and she has set her eyes on the house’s new tenant. Now, if this sounds cheesy, don’t you worry—in Michael Malone’s capable hands, this story of obsession and psychological tension is anything but. I devoured this book from its captivating first page to its chilling finale, and highly recommend it for fans of psychological suspense with an otherworldly element. // Read CBTB's Review
As Seen In: THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN by Dot Hutchison
Ah, The Gardener—one of the most twisted, depraved fictional serial killers I’ve read about in ages. I recently read (and became obsessed with) Hutchison’s dark and gripping THE BUTTERLFLY GARDEN (Book 1 in a trilogy), and I haven’t been able to get the character of The Gardener out of my mind since. This is a man who loves beauty so much that he wishes to preserve it forever—but his idea of preserving beauty is kidnapping, branding, and killing young women. He keeps these women in his “garden,” and brands them with tattoos of butterfly wings—they become ornaments in the ornate world he has created, until they reach their “expiration date” and are quietly killed… and their corpses displayed in his “garden.” The Gardener sees these twisted actions as a way of showing his love for his captives—talk about the wrong kind of love. THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN is a genuinely dark, twisted read—but I coudn’t get enough of it. If you prefer serial killer thrillers over psychological suspense novels, this book belongs on your TBR. Just don’t read it right before bed. // Read CBTB's Review
And that's a wrap on this year's Valentine's Day recommendations! I'd love to hear from you if any of these books are on your TBR - or if you've already read them. Happy Valentine's Day! xx A