Given my previous disappointing experience with a romantic suspense, I have to admit I was a little reluctant to dive back in right away. But if I’ve learned anything from that unfortunate experience it’s that I should trust Jennifer’s advice. Not surprisingly, I’m extremely happy I did. This was an exceptionally well crafted story with warm and engaging characters, realistic dialogue, an intricate plot and just the right amount of action and tension to keep things interesting.
Having said all that, I wasn’t overly impressed with the first 10% of the book. The writing was solid but the scenario seemed sort of extreme. A 16-year old girl in medical school at Harvard whose entire life is controlled by a domineering mother? Um, sure who doesn’t know someone like that? Elizabeth couldn’t have been more socially awkward if she’d been raised by wolves.
Regardless, I pushed through the somewhat improbable story setup as “Liz” becomes a material witness in a double murder executed by a Chicago Russian mafia enforcer (If I had a nickel for everytime this happened to me…). My patience was quickly rewarded however as this is where the book flipped for me. Elizabeth went from being a silly teenager rebelling against her mother to a young woman forced to deal with a life-altering experience. In fact, it could be argued it was her relatively short stay in an FBI safe house where she really blossomed as an interesting character both despite and because of the tragic ending there.
The backstory portion of the book was immediately followed by a sudden jump twelve years in the future in a small town in the Ozarks. It was a bit jarring, especially with the sudden introduction of a whole new set of characters. It’s where Brooks Gleason enters the story as the local police chief and it’s also where I get my first real taste of Nora Roberts’ character development skills which are considerable. Her physical description of Brooks, told in the folksy voice of the small town setting, was perfect.
“Then again, his mother was often full of shit, and often on purpose. His changeable hazel eyes could shift from greenish to amber or show hints of blue. His nose listed slightly to the left, the result of a grounder to third, a bad hop and missed timing. Sometimes he told a woman, if she should ask, that he’d gotten it in a fistfight.
Of course it isn’t long before Brooks and Elizabeth, who recently bought a sizeable property on the outskirts of town and is now going by the name Abigail, become entwined. His friendly, down home demeanor is the perfect counter to Abigail’s endearingly graceless social skills. It’s especially interesting to see how Abigail goes through the slow process of accepting him into the solitary life she’s carefully constructed for herself even as Brooks sheds portions of his old life he’s outgrown to make room for her.
Roberts’ ability to construct an intricate and often tense storyline with multiple subplots while balancing the budding relationship of the two main characters is absolutely masterful. This is how romantic suspense should be done. Personally, I hesitate to even categorize it as “romantic” at all. Sure, the relationship is an essential part of the story but it doesn’t overpower the surrounding issues. If anything, it only serves to lend an extra dimension.
As Jennifer would say, you should absolutely 1-Click the shit out of this book.
Side note: “But Design Dude, if you liked the book so much, why did you only give it 4.5 stars instead of a perfect 5?” Glad you asked. As an avid reader and a designer, I was deeply disappointed a novel of such high quality was saddled with a cover that was as confusing as it was disappointing. I could go on and on about the many ways in which this cover fails but it mostly irritates me that it may cause some readers to overlook a superb story. Shame on the publisher for not providing Ms. Roberts with a cover worthy of her talents.
Does this book contribute to or help crush the romance stigma?
Crushes it! This one is clean and sober. No rehab needed.
Other reading suggestions
Read the Nora Roberts backlist. It’s vast and there’s tons of awesome stuff there. We also loved the new Scarlett Cole release, Under Fire, which features an Abigail-like heroine. (i.e.: super smart and badass)
Note: you can check out our full review of Under Fire here.