I love romantic suspense. It’s my favorite romance subgenre. Police procedural, innocent character in jeopardy, or paramilitary, from the completely closed door to the extremely sensual, I gobble it all up. But recently I’ve been thinking about the heroes and whether there’s room, in literature, for the beta hero among all the hard-eyed, heavily-muscled alphas of romantic suspense.
I worry about this because the hero of the manuscript I am currently editing (LOST, out in May 2014) has a number of beta qualities. He’s not at all certain he can do the job he’s setting out to do. I think his insecurities make him a more interesting hero, but I am not sure he will be deemed an appropriate suspense hero.
Such heroes exist on television, but I see them very, very rarely in books. One of my favorite television beta heroes is Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds. Reid is a true geek. Twice that I can remember during the show he had romantic entanglements and in both instances he retained his essential beta qualities despite being the romantic lead. He’s a thinker and a bit of a klutz, and even when his girlfriends are in danger that doesn’t change. Once, when he’s investigating a starlet’s stalker, it all turns out fine, once it does not.
Romantic suspense is chock-a-block with FBI heroes, however, and all are alphas—nary a Dr. Reid or even an Agent Hochner among them. Where are the data analysts? The ones who spend most of their time tracking cybercrime…without guns? (Because, yeah, there are plenty of computer geek heroes, too, but they all pack weapons and spend their off hours working out with weights rather than playing with video games.)
Rick Castle is another great television beta hero. (Although, okay, Castle is as much rom-com as romantic suspense.) Beckett leads, Castle follows. He’s not weak by any means, and he contributes to every investigation, but she carries the gun and she clears the room. He is protective, but she’s the protector.
In this respect, probably the most interesting crime show on TV was Numb3rs, which featured an alpha brother and a beta brother, both of whom solved crimes, both of whom had romantic relationships. The alpha brother, FBI Agent Don Eppes, had a string of failed relationships and his romances were episodic. But he wasn’t really the show’s star anyway. The whole show revolved around his math genius brother, Charlie. Charlie’s crime-solving, Charlie’s ongoing romance, Charlie’s HEA.
So the crime-solving beta isn’t unheard of, he just doesn’t appear in romance novels that I’ve seen. Strong women, stronger men seems to be the formula. Sometimes, heroes are broken, but beneath the cracks and scars they are still alphas. Unlike the beta heroes of contemporary or historical romance, every romantic suspense hero goes through life sure of his place in the world. Of course, your SEAL heroes have to be alpha—they’d never make it through training otherwise—but what about the others? Is it necessary for the genre that they be alpha? Does “beta” translate too easily to “weak” when it comes to plots that involve physical as well as emotional danger?
Have you read any books with beta crime-solving heroes? I’d love to hear about them!