Halloween draws near and what better time than this frightful festivity to hunker down with a good love story…featuring a corpse or two, of course. It may sound a bit macabre (because it sort of is). Regardless, I’ve noticed an interesting trend haunting the literary world of late: love and murder.
That’s right, I’m talking steamy stories with a body count. Okay, okay, not all of the love in these books is the romantic kind. And even when it is, it’s not always at the forefront. But that’s what makes this trend so interesting! It’s a polarizing pairing of fondness and fatalities that’ll keep you reading way past your bedtime.
Whether they’re cozy mysteries, romantic suspense novels, or some other sinister genre-bending mashup, these stories feature a delectable blend of tenderness and bloodshed that’s perfect for the Halloween season. (Incidentally, it’s also an engaging formula for other times of the year, so don’t rule these books out after Halloween!)
I’m not sure exactly what it is about the balance of love and murder that makes these books so appealing, but appealing they are. So peruse this list and you may discover a macabre read that tickles your fancy. Some of them are dark, some are funny, and still others are thought-provoking. But all of them should get your heart pounding for one reason or another!
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
I picked up Manansala’s book on a whim, and I am so glad that I did. It was, as they say, unputdownable. Lila Macapagal is a supremely likable character. When she returns to her small hometown in the Chicago suburbs after a bad breakup, she tries to help her family revive their restaurant. In the process, she comes up against her obnoxious ex-boyfriend, the local food critic, who dies facedown in a plate of her food. As Lila struggles to reestablish relationships and clear her family’s name, she meets a wonderful cast of characters, unearths unexpected secrets, and attracts the attention of two very interesting (and very handsome) men. It’s a fast-paced and entertaining mystery with some nice morsels for any reader who is also a foodie. Bonus: the second book in this series, Homicide and Halo-Halo, is scheduled to be published in February!
Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
A questionable love affair? Check. A surprise offer? Check. A touch of metafiction? Check. Elle Cosimano’s novel is humorous despite the dead body that shows up in Finlay Donovan’s garage shortly after said corpse’s now-widow offered Finn $50k to murder him. What ensues is a good mystery, a comedy of errors, and an interesting twist — and another big offer for Finn to commit a different murder. Did I mention Finn is a romantic suspense writer? Finlay Donovan is Killing It is a surprising and enjoyable read that will keep you guessing (and turning those pages) until the end.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
The Lost Apothecary is a really interesting read. This one is not about romantic love, but about the bonds between women — bonds that reach across centuries in this book. There are two storylines that intersect in Penner’s novel. The first is in the late 18th century where apothecary Nella Clavinger operates a discreet business where women can fix a “man problem” with a vial from Nella. When young Eliza Fanning picks up such a vial for her mistress, she doesn’t realize what she’s carrying. Fast forward to the present where Caroline Parcewell travels to London, leaving her cheating husband behind. When she finds a mysterious vial on the banks of the River Thames, things get really interesting. The Lost Apothecary explores the bonds that unite women, even as there’s a bit of a body count happening in the background.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
This novel walks the line between thriller and horror. At its heart is a smart critique of the dispossessing impact of gentrification on African Americans. Sydney Green has returned to her childhood home in Brooklyn and grows increasingly suspicious of the initially annoying (and later, sinister) real estate scene as properties flip all around her. In Cole’s capable hands, the real horrors of gentrification get downright gruesome. And yet, there’s Theo. Because every horror story needs a hot neighbor with a failing relationship to brighten the protagonist’s day. Since the majority of Cole’s oeuvre consists of romance novels, Theo’s presence brings some steamy moments to the book — and somehow, despite the serious issues at the heart of the novel, it works.
Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
This book is hilarious. You wouldn’t think a novel grappling with everything from intergenerational family tensions to racist police officers would make you laugh out loud, but Sutanto is a genius in that regard. The book opens with protagonist Meddelin Chan going on pretty much the worst date in the history of ever. All she gets for her trouble is a corpse she needs to hide. Enter the aunties! As you can imagine, all manner of antics ensue as Meddelin’s irritating and awesome family comes to her aid — and the one that got away reappears unexpectedly. Happily, when you finish reading this one find yourself wishing it wasn’t over yet, know that the sequel Four Aunties and a Wedding is due out next spring!
A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh
Singh, who usually writes romance (paranormal and otherwise) made her first — but not last — foray into romantic suspense territory with A Madness of Sunshine. Newly-widowed Anahera Rawiri has just returned to Golden Cove in southern New Zealand when a young woman disappears. Will, a police officer considered an outsider by the community, needs Anahera’s help to solve the case. The two of them dig up clues, uncover secrets, and discover a bit about each other along the way.
Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Like Moreno-Garcia’s other works, Untamed Shore has some steamy scenes. Also like her other works, it has some dead bodies. Interestingly, it’s less of a mystery and more of a coming-of-age story. That’s because the reader — like the protagonist, young but ambitious Viridiana — knows exactly whodunnit. Viridiana is working for a wealthy writer staying in her small town in Baja California when he dies. As she navigates the investigation, covering for the writer’s widow and brother-in-law, there are still plenty of mysteries to unravel. Unlike some of the more romance-inflected books on this list, Moreno-Garcia’s latest noir read is less about love and more about a young woman learning how to take care of herself in this world.
Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia
If you like a good period piece, Dead Dead Girls is for you. Set in Harlem in the 1920s, it follows Louise Lloyd (AKA “Harlem’s Hero” because of her daring escape from a kidnapper as a youth). Louise is getting by…until someone starts killing Black girls and Louise gets into an altercation with the police and ends up having to choose between going to jail or helping them figure out what’s going on. The novel follows Louise as she investigates, and at the same time some of the plot is devoted to her relationship with her girlfriend, Rosa Maria Moreno. Part historical mystery, part lesbian romance, Nekesa Afia’s first book in her Harlem Renaissance Mystery series is well worth the read!