Jane Haddam: Sweet, Savage Death

Sweet, Savage Death

This isn’t even a romance novel. But it’s set at a conference of romance novelists (all members of the “American Writers of Romance”), and the most interesting things about it are what it has to say about romance novels and the romance industry.

As a murder mystery it’s not all that great; the writing is good, but the characters were hard to keep straight (I kept having to double check which one was Janine and which one was Julia, and who Lydia and Mary were) and it felt like too much book crammed into too few pages. Also, the convenient kleptomaniac cat was too convenient for my taste.

But it was a fun read, all the same. The disparity between the public personas the authors were expected to keep up and the realities behind the pseudonyms was hilarious. The idea of romance novelists as ruthless backstabbers veered a little too far into “all women are catty” territory to make me really happy, but I suppose hugely successful novelists are somewhat ego-driven, and since all the authors in this were women, well…

And it raised some interesting questions. The book was published in 1984, and the characters are worried about the glut of romance novels on the market, and the eventual shakedown-and-collapse of the industry. As far as I can tell, there were huge numbers of publishing companies with category romance lines in the eighties: what did happen to them all? Is Loveswept still around? What about Candlelight Ecstasy?

Also, the characters are variously concerned about the status of romance novels, the discrepancy between the amount of money they bring in and the lack of respect they get even within their own publishing houses, the publishers’ ownership of the authors’ pseudonyms (really? this was a thing?) and the necessity of maintaining a certain image in order to keep their readers happy. Those bits were fascinating, more so than the mystery itself.


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