There are a word for those who root for romance, no matter what. In the wider world of fandom, especially genre fandom, they are known as “shippers”, short for “relationshippers.” More commonly used for TV series (one show that had adamant shippers was The X-FIles, where from almost the first episodes there were fans that wanted Scully and Mulder to get it on), there are plenty of potentials for a good ship in book series as well. Sometimes in books as in TV the ship never comes in, the romance never gets consummated or even acknowledged. But that doesn’t stop a romance fan from hoping for their happy ending. There is no obstacle that a true blue shipper cannot willfully in search of their ship: plot mechanics, basic compatibility and sexual orientation can all be overcome in the heart of a true shipper. I’m a devoted shipper, but I’m a patient shipper. A big part of shipping is anticipation. Long looks, sexual tension, a lot of “He annoys me. I don’t like him at all. Why can’t I stop thinking about the way his lips look when he….DAMMIT” internal monologues. I love series where the relationship builds over time and the couple has to overcome a ton of obstacles. While in traditional romance there are relationships that are more of the “slow burn” variety, the couple almost always get together in the end. But in genre blends, especially blends that are part of a series, the romantic relationships might develop over multiple books. Will they? Won’t they? Ahhhhhh…..
When I started thinking about all the series that have great slow building romances for shippers, I realized that there were too many for a single post. Since the series tended to fall into two genre combos I will actually be posting two roundups. Today will be the mystery series for shippers, followed by urban fantasies tomorrow. Although my reviewing responsibilities for Library Journal mean that most of my reading these days in SF, fantasy and horror, I’ve been a voracious mystery reader in the past. Because so many mysteries are long-running series featuring the same characters, it is easy to find couples to ship. Spoiler warnings for some of these series – if you’re not caught up the couples might play out as you expect! I’ll list some of my favorites slow burning ships, but what are yours?
Patrick Kenzie/Angie Gennaro series by Dennis Lehane
First book: A Drink Before the War
This is one of the classic setups for a good ship. Patrick and Angie have known each other for years, have smoking hot chemistry (that they have acted on in the past), but as the series opens Angie is married (to a total ass) and Patrick spends his time tomcatting around South Boston. But the two are a good team, investigators who work the violent streets of their neighborhood. This series goes to some really dark places. The relationship and its ups and downs is a part of the series, but it doesn’t take away from the great mystery plots. For Patrick and Angie, the attraction is always still there, still deep, but they also have each other’s back absolutely, which is sexy, too.
Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Allstyne series by Julia Spencer-Fleming
First book: In the Bleak Midwinter
This is another series where the impediment to otherwise insta-attraction is someone’s wedding vows. Clare Fergusson moved to small town Millers Kill to take over as the pastor of the local Episcopal church, but she feels out-of-place. She bonds with the police chief Russ Van Allstyne who is, like Clare, ex-Army. They work together in this first book to find out who left a baby on the church steps, and the mystery takes some very dark turns. There’s some sparking going on there too between Clare and Russ, but Russ is married. Needless to say, the two spend some time (and books) fighting their attraction.
Grant County series by Karin Slaughter
First book: Blindsighted BONUS! Will Trent first book: Triptych
When the Grant County series opens, local coroner and pediatrician Sara Linton is divorced from local police chief Jeffrey Tolliver. There were some good solid reasons the two are not together when the series starts, but watching them work together to solve a brutal murder at the local college campus, you can tell they are not really through with each other. The dance between the two is ongoing over the early books of this series. Instead of the typical shiny new attraction that you see in a lot of romance blends, this has depth. These two people know each other, know each other’s faults and failings, and still find themselves pulled together. No spoilers, but fans of mystery/romance blends who might not have been entirely happy with the way Slaughter went with the Sara/Jeffrey relationship can get in on the ground floor with another interesting character — damaged FBI agent Will Trent. Will and Sara will intersect in his series around book 3. Both the Grant County books and Will Trent books are very violent when it comes to the mystery investigations and highly emotionally in general, which might be why I get so invested in her relationships.
Duncan Kinkaid/Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie
First book: A Share in Death
I actually came to this series late, and my first Kinkaid/James novel had them solidly in a relationship, although it is not without its complications. I have since poked about in the early series and this is a great slow burn for shippers, digging into the complications of workplace romance. A reliable trope in TV and novels alike, this series is one of those law enforcement series where two people are paired together as partners and start having feelings for one another*. Kinkaid is a Superintendent at Scotland Yard in this series opener, on holiday in the north of England. When a fellow guest at the hotel is murdered, Kinkaid calls in his reliable Sergeant Gemma Kinkaid to help investigate. The two balance each other — Kinkaid highly intelligent, but reserved and cool, while James is warmer, more emotional and outgoing. Of course they belong together, but it will take a while to get there. Yay!
*BTW, am I the only one shipping Lynley/Havers? Nope.
Deborah Knott series by Margaret Maron
First book: Bootlegger’s Daughter
Deborah Knott is campaigning for a seat as a judge in North Carolina when a young woman asks her to investigate the unsolved murder of her mother 18 years before. Deb knows everyone in Cotton Grove and so she starts asking the locals what they know. The case throws her into the company of the local chief of detectives Dwight Bryant, a man she’s known her whole life, but now there is a sparky tension between them. This is a series for patient shippers, as it will take a few books for Deb and Dwight to get their timing right. These books have one thing I can’t resist in a romantic plot — the lovesick man. I simply swoon for stories where the woman is cautious and nervy, but the man is absolutely, positively, head-over-heels in love. HISTORICALS There’s also a few great long running historical mystery series that have a slow-burn romance on the side. The great thing about romances in historical novels is that (opposed to contemporaries) there can be some really believable reasons for the couples to not jump right into bed together. Social mores, class conflict, and general strictures on how women were expected to behave in society all meant that relationships outside of marriage were not as common. It makes the slow burn romance over many books more believable in a lot of ways.
Lady Julia Gray series by Deanna Raybourn
First book: Silent in the Grave
Meeting over the dead body of your husband is hardly an auspicious beginning for a romance, but from the moment Lady Julia Gray meets investigator Nicholas Brisbane and he tells her that he thinks her husband was murdered, you know there is something there. Her husband had apparently been getting threatening letters before his death, so Lady Julia hires NIcholas to investigate. The two are opposites, of course. Nicholas is surly but brilliant, and Julia is spoiled but curious, determined and funny. One of the big appeals is the setting in Victorian era, which adds some lovely scenery to the light plot. These are not complex mysteries, but romance fans will enjoy watching Julia and Nicholas get closer.
Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris
First book: What Angels Fear
The Regency period in England has been fodder for thousands of romances, so it might be inevitable that a mystery set in the period would have a strong romantic subplot. This first volume is about Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, who is back from the Napoleonic wars where he spied for England and saw bad things. He was in love with an actress before he left for war, and that unfinished relationship is an important subplot in the book. What makes this more interesting for shippers is that it is not a straightforward couple subplot, where they meet and the author has to set up a hundred reasons per book why they can’t be happily together. Well, I mean she does, but the couple she is pushing and pulling around in the first couple of books is not the couple she ends up shipping for reals. Personally, I have only read the first couple of books in this series, but I never bought Sebastian and Kat the actress. The love interest that ends up staying the course is actually introduced in the very first volume, when a desperate Sebastian kidnaps Hero Jarvis while on the run from prosecution for a vicious murder. Is is possible that Sebastian/Hero shippers changed the course of the series? Probably not, but it would be great if they did! If you crave more Mystery/Romance blends remember to try the blender. Tune in tomorrow for Urban Fantasy for ‘Shippers!