Reviewed: March 26, 2011
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: D.C. Detectives, Book 2
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 279 Pages
Formats: Hardcover, Mass Market Paperback, Kindle, Nook, Audio Cassette
Writing murder mysteries has given author Grace McCabe a successful career, but when her sister is brutally slayed while Grace is visiting her in D.C., murder hits far too close to her heart. Struggling to come to terms with the woman her sister really was and who she is in the wake of her loss, a deep-seeded desire for justice starts to burn in her, even as a different sort of desire is sparked for her sister's neighbor, D.C. homicide detective Ed Jackson.
From the moment Ed saw Grace leaning out the window of his neighbor's house, he was captivated by her. Realizing she was an author whose books he favored only made him want to meet her more. The steady and thorough man with a gentle heart and warrior's eyes recognized her as his future almost immediately, but the discovery of her sister's body, and helping Grace through the loss even as he investigates the crime, has created a tension in him that he can't quell. He knows there is a killer stalking his victims, and he knows Grace would do anything - including put herself in a monster's sights - to stop him.
I've been a huge fan of Nora Roberts for more years than I care to admit to and have spent so very many hours lost in the worlds she creates, adoring my stays there. Unfortunately, Brazen Virtue wasn't one I favored, but in this case, I may have no one to blame but myself. Perhaps if I'd read this sequel to Sacred Sins back when it was originally published in 1988, I would have felt vastly different about it, because the truth of the matter is, it's difficult for a book of this nature to feel fresh twenty-three years after it was released.
A maestro of character study and well conceived plots, a virtuoso of lyrical prose and realistic dialogue, Nora Roberts is a goddess of romantic fiction, and those traits are in evidence in Brazen Virtue. I'm always fond of main characters who are authors like Grace is, because there always seems to be a bit more...something...part realism and part emotional honesty in those characters (be it real or imagined on my part) than in others, like the author his/herself is speaking a personal truth through their characters. It's something I've always found appealing and I did so in this case as well. Ed was no slouch either as the quintessential good guy that Roberts is so adept at writing. Both lead characters are three dimensional and realistic.
In fact, as far as the technical aspects of the story go, it's Roberts. If she doesn't do it well, no one does.
I can only imagine that when the book was originally released, it was probably a very taut, tense, and timely suspense novel, but now, over two decades of wars, politics, natural disasters, heinous crimes, and acts of terrorism, technological advances, and an entertainment industry overflowing with every single sharp-eyed observation of man's inhumanity to man has stripped this book of its sophistication and polish, leaving it feeling too tame and plodding to feel at all current...or substantial.
I don't need to wonder what that says about today's culture...or my own jaded world view.
Beyond that, though, I didn't like what I was reading. I wasn't sold on the timing or alleged romantic intensity between Ed and Grace - most of that was because I didn't find Ed's character to be to my taste. He was a bit too quietly solid and seemingly easy going for me. I preferred Ben in this book just as much as I did when he was featured in Sacred Sins. I also didn't like how Kathleen's character, Grace's sister, was slowly dragged down through the evolution of this book, to go from a struggling woman fighting her rich and influential ex-husband, scrambling to fund the investigation and battle for custody of her son, to a cold and self absorbed, bitter, drug addicted woman who made a horrible wife and mother and a judgmental, envious sister. It was unnecessary and seemed contrived to allow for Grace to heal from her loss quicker, as if to justify her quickly moving on from Kathleen's death.
The police procedural part felt very awkward, and the connection to Fantasy, Inc. seemed so glaringly obvious yet overlooked as a serious possibility for far too long, but again, I think my dissatisfaction is another symptom of the perils of the modern world on a book published so long ago.
I can't go back to 1988 (thank hell...because the hair and the clothes, people!) and view this book through the lens of a simpler, less dangerous, far less controversial time. I can only assume that if I could, this book would have seemed tense, atmospheric, and shocking. With today's headlines and over two decades of history between now and then, however, Brazen Virtue seemed too much a victim of the modern world...and maybe we're all a little worse off for it.
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