I just finished a marathon reading session (for me) in which I read something like five romantic suspense novels over the course of a week. During this mini-marathon I was struck by the contrast between the Spare and the Lush.
I started thinking about this when I read Catherine Asaro's The Misted Cliffs. This Luna fantasy novel used extremely simple language and sentence structure to tell its story of a very wounded hero and the woman he married in order to keep peace in his world. When I say "simple," I mean simple as in Hemingway-simple. The language was spare and gorgeous and didn't distract me except when I had to stop and admire it.
So when I picked up my very first Erica Spindler novel, See Jane Die, and discovered the simplicity of her language, I inevitably made comparisons. See Jane Die is one of those romantic suspense novels that sucks you in on pure premise alone -- and the spareness of the writing seemed to help with that. I enjoyed the novel very much, but something felt a little lacking to my reader's brain, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Was it too spare? Too thinly sketched on the page? Too...masculine, maybe? I dunno.
And on the other end of the spectrum was Colleen Thompson's The Deadliest Denial. Colleen's writing can be lyrical at times and she has moments, like those in The Misted Cliffs, where I just had to sigh contentedly because the image was so spot-on. If I have any complaint whatsoever with The Deadliest Denial, it's that -- hold onto your hats -- it was too perfect. (Is that even possible?) Had the language itself lulled me into a place where I was a little too content? I think it's possible. When I know I'm in the hands of a writer who knows what she's doing, I can indeed let go of the urgency.
Another lush novel was Olga Bicos's Deadly Impulse, which didn't bring anything really new to the table plot-wise, but which taught me a lot about a lot of things. The lushness didn't come from the language, but from the way information gets paid out to the reader, creating layer upon layer of motivation, character development, and plot complications. It was a nice read, though there were no real surprises in store for the reader.
Sure, we all want a gripping story well-told, but the gripping really is in the telling, whether we're aware of it or not. A suspense novel whose primary sentence structure is that of light comedy will likely fall flat, because the story's trying to tell us one thing while the language itself is telling us something different.
So which style do you prefer for romantic suspense? Or do you even care? What makes a romantic suspense novel work for you?