Eve Duncan is another heroine with lovers vying for a place by her side as she endured multiple assaults and horrors. Even a stone cold series finisher like myself couldn't make it to Bonnie, the allegedly final chapter in the actually ongoing Eve Duncan Chronicles. Humanity wasn't enough for Johansen. She raises her I See My Dead Daughter ante with other paranormal aspects late in the game. What started life as a compelling series rooted in reality became mired in international government conspiracies, super humans and paranormal abilities. The Eve Duncan Chronicles was a total bait and switch. A dominant theme of this, like so many popular romantic suspense series, was mutilated women and children.
In the Charley Davidson series I'm experiencing a blend of both these worlds. Like Sookie, Charley is put through a horrific ordeal with each book. Tortured, beaten, sexually assaulted, Charley never makes it to the final pages intact. People she trusted betrays her. Her lover abuses her and withholds information. Unlike Harris, Jones appears committed to her core couple. No matter what information Reyes has withheld from Charley or what peril he places her in, the omgsohot sex will let Charley forgive him. There is a scene in every book where Reyes saves her from something, giving the swooning reader a chance to excuse whatever Reyes has done or will do to Charley outside of that action. The reader is told how protective and good Reyes is, an abusive past is trotted out to excuse dysfunctional treatment.
Robards, formerly one of my favorite authors, launched her Charlotte Stone series last year. The heroine is haunted by a dead serial killer who she finds sexually compelling despite the living and non criminal man in front of her. I panned the book but readers strongly defended it. There were hints laid that the serial killer might have been innocent. He. Might. Have. Been. Innocent. Maybe. Meanwhile, he was absolutely convicted. He absolutely played creepy mind games with Dr. Stone during their pre-death encounters. After surviving the required near death terror porn experience, Charlotte rejects the living supportive man in front of her for the less than honest dead guy who probably killed girls for kicks in her head. This is past Bad Boy Romance and deep into Toxic Self Destruction.
Remember Batgirl? Daughter of a cop, crime fighter, lover of Robin? In The Killing Joke DC made the controversial choice to break her spine. The Joker raped her and left her for dead. Afterward, she was faced with the long road to recovery. Her mental and physical changes were played out over years of story as she rebuilt herself into Oracle, a chair bound superhero who relied on her mind to perform the tasks her body used to. Barbara underwent a traumatic experience with real effects. She emerged a different but still highly capable woman. She did not start dating the Joker. In 2011 DC made the even more controversial choice to magically heal her and restore Barbara to the cowl as Batgirl. The Oracle, a more powerful character to many, was erased. I had complicated feelings about that (and other choices). DC and I broke up after many, many (many!) years together.
Where are our series with men who suffer unimaginable abuse and are still instantly hot for it? Where are our heroines who lie, abuse, mistreat and rage at our hero but are forgiven via their sad childhood? Why do we want to read about women being broken and men who make their burden heavier? I've lost count of the ways women or children are imperiled in romantic suspense. Girls in cages, books told from the killer's POV, girls buried alive, paranormal heroines having their skin peeled off, rapes and torture abound. Are these empowering because the heroine triumphs over an exaggerated version of real world horrors? Does the failure of the heroine to succumb to life ending injuries reinforce the lie that horror can never happen to us? Does her refusal to demand honesty and support from her problematic partner reinforce the message that wanting this in our own lives is unreasonable? We can be beaten. We can be tortured. We can undergo anything, see anything, and we can soothe Man Pain while we do it. Backwards. In heels. It's an incomplete thought, but it's on my mind lately. Extreme Romance (as DA's Robin terms it) may be on the rise but it's roots have been in romance for years.
On the healthier side of the coin we have both Eve Dallas and the Bishop's Special Crimes series. While women are still injured or tortured on the regular, the heroines are promised healthy and unconditional support from their partners. Women injured in the line of work stay injured. There is very little paranormal instant healing. The men generally support their choices and respect their agency. Most importantly, the relationships are mutually supportive. Past abuse is used as motivation or explanation, but never as an excuse or a free pass. These series are romantic suspense without the self hatred, and they are what I look for when I pick up a series. I wish they weren't so damn hard to find. I wish I knew why we (collectively) want the abuse dynamic reinforced in our fiction. If we didn't, it wouldn't sell.