Is romance in the male thriller dead?

I like to read. In fact, I’ll read just about anything that enhances my life in some way. As I’ve grown older, I don’t always finish what I start, but that’s because there are so many good books – fiction and non-fiction – available now.

Ulf Andersen Portraits - Robert Ludlum

I’ve loved male thrillers since I was a teenager. Ludlum, mostly then. John Sandford, James Lee Burke, and C.J. Box mostly now.


John Sanford’s, Virgil Flowers novels, are some of my favorites. They are easy to read, funny, and I like a bit of vicarious violence now and again. I can also finish them in a sitting or two; which is a tremendous plus.


Virgil Flowers is an interesting guy. He’s young-ish, smart, funny, and likes to fish when he needs to work out whodunnit, and why. Sandford’s books take place in Minnesota which is near and dear to my Wisconsinite heart, so that’s a plus as well.

Sanford describes Virgil, or more pointedly has a female character describe him, as a good looking, blond, surfer-esque dude, prone to wearing indie band t-shirts, cowboy boots, and jeans. He does not look like the cop he is, much less, like the uber-cop he turns out to be. He’s “sociable”. We know this because Sandford tells us so, well that and the fact that Virgil has been married three times in somewhat rapid succession – and one assumes, divorced three times nearly as quickly.

Now, though, he’s sworn off marriage.

Which brings me around to my point. Sex in male thrillers is a far different thing than it is in romance or in adventure literature. It doesn’t seem to mean much, not that it always has to, but once in a while a meaningful connection could be had.

I like Virgil Flowers.

I like the t-shirts and the boots and the fact that he rarely knows where his gun is. I like his ease with women. I don’t like that the depth of his romantic interludes reads like a high school jock getting off between quarters of a football game while patting himself on the back for his performance. He usually has sex in each novel – often several times in a row – but they are short, quick scenes where prowess is never in question, and neither is his heart. Not really. There’s no real opening up of himself. This I don’t get. That said, I’ll read every one of John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers novels with a smile, living in perpetual hope that at some point he’ll share his heart.


I’ve read most of the 19 “Reacher” novels, by Lee Child – even though he sold Tom Cruise the rights to portray his 6’-5” hero. Same thing. No divorces, but no real connection to anyone Reacher sleeps with either.

Ludlum had some romantic connections in his books. Sometimes even action spurring love. The new thrillers, though, those with a common serial lead, rarely do.


So that’s why I read them intermittently, after long stints of romantic fiction. I like the wit. I enjoy the smattering of violence and the plot twists. James Lee Burke, in particular, is a fantastic writer, as are all the others I’ve mentioned.

Still, I miss the romance. The closeness. Even the illusion that a strong male with sharp wits and an ascerbic tongue, chasing over-the-top bad guys, could manage to give his heart along the way.

How about you? Does romance play a pivotal role in your pleasure reading? Are there some male thriller writers who do romance well? Does giving your heart, even for the span of one novel, ruin the male thriller? I don’t think it does, so I’m actively reading in the hope that someone will fill the romance gap in this wonderfully fast-paced genre.

Happy Reading! May 2015 be filled with great reads and wonderful writing.


13 thoughts on “Is romance in the male thriller dead?

  1. I found your insight on the romance in thrillers interesting. I have never thought about it one way or another. I think, as a rule, male thriller authors think of sex/romance as an after-thought. It’s not really pivotal to the plot and is thrown in for the masses. That being said, I do enjoy Harlan Coben thrillers. He takes a different view and makes sex/romantic scenes a part of the character development. I also enjoy Robert Crais. As for my pleasure reading, I do like romance in my books but it is not critical. I look for characters that capture me and take me for an adventure. It’s all about the characters for me. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for replying, Mrs. N. I agree with you—character makes a novel for me. I love Lee Child’s: Reacher. I love Virgil Flowers as well. I think it’s interesting to read the male perspective of hero, especially when it comes to intimacy. When it’s done well it does shine a critical light on character. I just get a chuckle out of the fact that in many serial novels there’s little if any development in terms of real heart-sharing. My mother loves Robert Crais and I’m sorry to say, I’ve never read him. After your response though, I’ll be heading out to 1/2 price books this weekend. I’ll be picking him up. Maybe Harlan Coben as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and some of the thriller authors you enjoy. Happy Reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love a good thriller and a great character leading the book. Romance doesn’t need to be graphic for me, I skim over graphic scenes or don’t read at all. I like romance in books and the emotion that plays into a good read. A great character that draws me in, a wonderful plot, an ending that changes the character and satisfies.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Carol, I agree wholeheartedly with you and Mrs. N. Characters make a novel for me. Any kind of story-telling really. Movies, songs, poems…it’s the characters who resonate long after the plot and the prose are forgotten. I like a great sex scene too, but it’s the emotion that stays with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder why romance isn’t seen often, if at all, in male thrillers. It’s likely that each of the authors has experienced it. No matter how great a plot or character may be in a thriller, I’m sure the author could give the character’s personality a depth that people could relate to more easily, simply by having them express emotions that come with experiencing love or romance. Thanks, Leigh!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love reading James Rollins. His books are the most ‘romantic’ guy books I’ve ever read. Brad Thor isn’t too bad either. But Rollins knows how to make sex mean something in his books. I like that about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m sorry to intrude with what may be considered spam, but I have shared your concern for the scarcity of in-depth romance in male thrillers; so I wrote one. It’s “Escape!” by David Emil Henderson, available from and other online retailers in paperback or eBook versions. The description of plot and characters and reader reviews (4-5 stars) are included with Amazon’s presentation. Or feel free to request a free PDF copy of the book by email.

    — David EH

    I only do this because you sort of asked for it.


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