Anatomy of a Romantic Thriller

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 by Nike Chillemi

I write romantic thrillers. It’s said this category is lodged somewhere between the romance genre and the crime fiction genre. It’s kind of a cross-over category.

A romantic thriller is not the same as romantic suspense. Some romance readers might think a romantic thriller gives too vivid a description of the details of the crime scene. Or that it has too much violence or action. But I write what I like to read. I want to read a story with a complex murder scenario. I want the motivation for the murder to ring true. And the villain (murderer) has to be a worthy opponent to match wits with my heroine and hero. In Christian fiction, this sub-genre is growing in popularity.

One thing the romantic thriller author must do is fuel the reader’s moods. There should be an intense feeling of dread, or of anticipation, or uncertainty. If the reader’s pulse races or he/she decides to sleep with a nightlight, chances are the novel is a thriller.

My stories deal with crime: particularly murder, and also intrigue, scandal, and revenge. The pace is such that, hopefully it keeps the reader on the edge of her/his seat. My two co-protagonists are engaged in the business of hunting a killer. They battle with the villain, fight for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Their intelligence and talents save them repeatedly. In a thriller, there’s always the chance the killer might raise the stakes and strike again. One of the hallmarks of a thriller is a highly stressful climax.

My stories all have faith-based sub-themes. Yet, I never have the crime solved by a supernatural occurrence. The heroine and hero have to work hard to solve the crime. And it doesn’t hurt to have them look like gonners once or twice in the novel.

Of course, the romance part of romantic thriller portends that the hero and heroine will fall in love. They will have lots of romantic tension between them. In my current historical romantic thriller, GOODBYE NOEL, the story starts with a strong attraction between Detective Ian Daltry and pediatric nurse Katrina Lenart. But there’s also antipathy. The sparks fly. Boy do they.

None of my heroines are shrinking violets. In GOODBYE NOEL, Katrina is put at risk a few times and either saves herself, or Ian saves her. In the process of struggling with a cunning villain, Ian and Katrina fall deeper and deeper in love. One of the most important things is that the main characters be three dimensional. A romance doesn’t necessarily have to have a lovable hero and heroine and that’s doubly true in for a romantic thriller. But they do have to be compelling. The reader has to want to know what they are going to do next, or what’s going to be done to them.

I like to write romantic thrillers because there’s double suspense. Will the guy get the girl? That’s the romantic suspense part. There has to be plenty of obstacles thrown up in the road to romance. One of the obstacles for the believer of the pair is that they would have to be on the same page spiritually in order to enjoy the deep intimacy of sharing their faith with each other. Whereas the thriller part pushes the suspense to the max. Will the hero and heroine save themselves, each other, and those they love in time? There’s usually time pressure in a thriller. The killer is one-step ahead of them and has a lethal agenda. Or the killer has an unrelenting time table and the hero and heroine must beat the clock.


Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards and its Chairman, a reader’s choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She writes book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. BURNING HEARTS is the first book in the crime wave that is sweeping the south shore of Long Island in The Sanctuary Point series, published by Desert Breeze. GOODBYE NOEL, the second book in the series was released in December, 2011. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers (Ning).


Her novels are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and wherever fine ebooks are sold.


Nike’s website:

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  1. Enjoyed the post.
    Janis Lane

  2. Great post. Excellent comparison explanation of romantic suspense vs. a romantic thriller

  3. Janis, Crystal,

    Thx for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the article. Romantic Thrillers are such great reads. 🙂

  4. Nike, I enjoyed reading this and you’re on my TBR list! Colleen Coble, also romance thriller writer, says when you don’t know what to write next, “Kill someone.”

  5. Nike, great post. Would you ever consider branching into cozy mysteries? My mother is a huge fan of that genre. But maybe you would you have to write under a different name to jump from edge-of-seat to cozy.

  6. Nice contrast, Nike. You made the differences clear and understandable in a way I had not thought about before. Your books are well-written as well! Love your insight and humor, too.

  7. Jude, I LOVE that thought by Coleen Colbe. When you don’t know what to write…kill someone. LOL

    If I don’t have any spare characters I can kill, I like to take my hero or my heroine and put them in a situtaion I would’ve said they’d never find themselves in. That’s fun too. The more dangerous the better.

  8. Sara Goff, I read mostly thrillers, but I do enjoy a good cozy that has an awesome sleuth. Somebody I really care about. And if it has food scenes, so much the better. 🙂

  9. Elaine, I think the most important aspect of a thriller is the thought that the heroine and hero might fail. That the villian might win. Even though the reader knows that’s not possible, they have to emotionally fear for the hero and heroine at some point in the novel. They have to believe, even if it’s only for a moment, that the hero and heroine could lose the battle. Then of course, when things look bleakest for the main characters, they somehow overcome and catch the devious killer.

  10. This was both helpful and engaging. Thank you, Nike. I think I understand what a romantic thriller is now.

    • Tessa and Elaine, This is why, perhaps, a romantic thriller is a bit darker than a romantic suspense. The hero and heroine may have flaws, may be broken in such a way that there “seems” to be a chance they will be defeated by the villian. Of course they won’t be defeated. They will be victorious, but the reader has to have that moment of doubt.

      Also in a romantic thriller, the hero and heroine can come out with battle scars at the end. If it’s a series with the same characters, they might go into the next novel healing from the experience. This would make them broken and vulnerable in the next book.

  11. Very helpful/informative post. Thanks for sharing. I’ll Tweet it 🙂

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