I love a good thriller, action movie, or martial arts flick. Cross one of those genres with a romance novel? I’m in. Here are my fave romantic suspense books so far. Hope you find something here to enjoy! (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
The main characters in this M/M historical romance are fantastic. First, we have bookish, honest gay Secret Service agent Emlyn Strickland, a specialist in identifying counterfeit bills. He’s a doll, if slightly inexperienced in actual field work. Second, we have bisexual former counterfeiter Darrow Gardiner, who’s just spent the last six years in prison and figures pretending to trade information for his freedom might get him a chance to steal his best counterfeit plates back from an ex-colleague so he can go back to crime.
Deep in his heart, Darrow really doesn’t believe what he does is wrong. If the government can print money, why can’t he? Given what Emlyn does for a living and his respect for law and order, it’s such a terrible idea for them to fall for each other… so of course they end up in forced proximity traveling to Colorado to investigate an illicit silver mine, get betrayed so the only people they can rely on are each other (if Emlyn can really rely on Darrow), face great peril, etc. etc. It has all the story beats you want in a romantic suspense, with two distinctive leads and a wonderful slow burn.
Looking back, I’m honestly not sure how everything that happened in this book was supposed to fit into a week, but at the time I didn’t notice. I was too busy freaking out over people getting shot at and stuff.
The fact that this hasn’t been optioned for a movie is proof that there is no justice in the world. It would be amazing! In Tang Dynasty China, Li Feng is a sword dancer and outlaw. She was orphaned as a child and has no faith in the system. Han is a bounty hunter who believes in the rule of law, no doubts allowed. When they’re forced to make an uneasy alliance, Han’s black and white thinking is shaken.
It’s enemies to lovers, road trip, action, and suspense, with plenty of rooftop chases and swordfights. But it’s also a slow, gentle love story about two people changing for each other, and a story about the importance of family, and how hard it is when you lose that. This isn’t my first Jeannie Lin book, but it’s now my favorite, and I’ll definitely be working through more of her backlist. Especially the ones with swords.
Update November 2018: I’ve read the second book in the “Lovers and Rebels” duology now, A Dance With Danger, and I enjoyed it too.
If this Mediterranean-inspired alt-historical romance didn’t have a significant suspense component, the two main characters would have spent the whole book gazing into each others’ eyes with delight at having met… and I would have been here for that too!! I loved them so much. But it was probably better that suspense was there, because (a) structure and (b) it was really tense, realistic, and satisfying.
Both of the MCs are such soft sweethearts in personality – though they kick ass when needed – and I don’t often see such a pairing in romance. I hadn’t planned to read this but a friend talked me into it and I’m so glad.
Note: I removed all contemporary police officer books from this post in 2023, except for this one. McCade is Black, Asian, Native, and trans, so he’s about the only person I trust to engage with the structural issues properly while writing romance.
Cole McCade leans heavily toward stories with luxurious diversity of characters, which I adore, and he totally brings it here. Malcolm Khalaji is a bisexual Persian American Mizrahi Jewish silver fox homicide detective. Seong-Jae Yoon is a younger Korean American, who is gay demigray ace, and a former FBI profiler transitioning to the Baltimore police force.
This is an ongoing series that becomes a romance, structured like a police procedural television show (think NCIS etc), so this first episode is mostly their first case together case and the leads getting to know each other during that investigation, with only hints of attraction until very late in the game. I love police procedurals for the puzzle-solving aspect, and this one did not disappoint. I could almost physically feel Malcolm and Seong-Jae’s frustration as the serial killer took another victim, and another, and another. And their frustration as their working styles clashed, haha.
Though the eventual culprit and that person’s actions got a little goofy for me in comparison to the overall tone and characters, I can forgive it because the rest is so gripping and suspenseful. I pre-ordered the next installment as soon as I finished the first one, especially because of the ending, which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say, McCade understands how to start a story arc that will make you tune in next time. [Update: I finished reading the entire first season and really enjoyed it.]
Content warnings: McCade provides them in the front of each book, take them seriously. This series is about investigating murders, so there is violence, descriptions of gore, etc.
Maybe not quite a romance, but very romance-adjacent. The setup seems a bit silly, and Monopoli even subtitles it “a tall tale,” but like the other Monopoli books I’ve read, there’s serious emotional punch here.
Boots McHenry and his boyfriend Ryan are professional paintball players in a world where it’s the most celebrated international sport. To keep stakes high, any player shot with a paintball is exiled for five years to a secret island. When Ryan is hit and exiled, his last words to Boots are lost in the roar of chopper blades. Boots’s friend and teammate Clemente Santiago urges him on a mission to find the island so he can have the convo Boots and Ryan should have had about their future before tragedy struck.
This is NOT a book for anyone who needs their main characters to only have sex with each other! Boots is a mess, reeling from the sudden loss of Ryan, completely unprepared to feel such heartbreak, but also freaked out by the idea of putting his life on hold for five years. Some of his resulting messy choices lead to complications, some of them lead to solutions. There’s a tangled web of love and attraction between Boots, Ryan, Clem, and Boots’s ex and teammate Piper, and part of Boots’s journey to the island is also his journey figuring out how to untangle that web – which is a lot harder to do when most of the people involved are keeping secrets.
Do we get an HFN/HEA for Boots? Yes. Do we also get a dramatic pirate attack and an open-water rescue? Yes! Do we get a sweet secondary love story about a hot ship captain? Yes!
If you’re willing to read something a little different from the usual romance plot formula, but which hits the emotional beats beautifully, give this a whirl.
Enemies to lovers romance between an African American woman and a Korean American man in a remote cabin after a total power outage across… well, it’s not clear how widespread it is, due to the lack of communications, and that’s part of why it’s so scary. No one knows what happened. Arden and her roommate John leave on foot from Rochester towards the family property near the Canadian border. Gabriel, his physician older brother, saves them from a scavenger attack, but blames Arden for John being injured.
Now they’re all holed up together, along with John and Gabe’s teenage sister, wondering whether life will ever be the same again, and also why John and Gabe’s parents haven’t returned from a trip to see the neighbors. It’s four people living with increasing stress and uncertainty, Gabe and Arden reluctantly admitting their mutual attraction, and disturbing signs that something bad happened to Gabe and John’s parents, who should have been back from visiting the neighbors by now. Solid near-post-apocalypse suspense with a deep compassion for its characters when they make even dangerous mistakes. Which they do, because no one’s perfect in the post-apocalypse.
“After the second U.S. Civil War, life is dangerous, but risking their hearts might be the biggest threat…
When charismatic newcomer Clark walks into Van’s life in post-war rural Colorado, neither can ignore the sparks between them. Van has built a fulfilling new normal with his girlfriend Hadas after his wife’s death, but Clark’s brash flirtation and dominant tendencies awaken a desire for a kind of romance Van thought he’d lost forever. Even if he’s not sure he’s ready for it.
Clark survived the war, but his family fractured and now his relationships are in ruins. All that must be his fault, or everyone wouldn’t say so. He’s relocated to start over, zero interpersonal complications welcome. His inescapable chemistry with Van, who seems to crave more than hookups, is a complication. So is Clark’s growing platonic bond with Hadas. Both want an emotional connection he can’t give them, and he’ll only disappoint them if he tries. Won’t he?
Then a violent gang of thieves targets their small town, and Van and Hadas prepare to put their lives on the line protecting their close-knit community. Having lost too much already, Clark starts to pull away, spooking Van. But when a traitor betrays them all, Clark is the only one who can save the two people who asked him to open his heart… and made him want to risk it.”
And that’s the list of my favorite suspenseful romance novels!