Reviewed: April 16, 2011
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: N/A ~ Non-Series
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 496 Pages
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Nook, Audiobook CD
In the sultry Savannah heat, a patient killer stalks his prey, intent on taking everything from the one woman who took everything from him.
Savannah-Chatham police lieutenant and hostage negotiator Phoebe MacNamara spent part of her Saint Patrick's Day talking a suicidal bartender down off a ledge, while bar owner Duncan Swift looks on in equal parts fear and appreciation for the take-charge woman. When her quick thinking and steely nerves save the day, Duncan feels her start to worm her way into his mind and stick there. Intrigued and enchanted, he decides to give her a little wiggle room before he looks her up and sees if that sticking thing is significant.
When Swift shows up at her precinct house, Phoebe is both confused and a little ruffled. Being maneuvered into agreeing to meet the attractive man for a drink, though, makes her realize what a smooth operator he is. The woman in her appreciates that, especially when combined with his dimple and a very fine posterior. Her personal life being what it is, though, as a single mother of a precocious seven year old and a guardian, of sorts, for her agoraphobic mother, combined with the way her professional life tends to impact that personal life, Phoebe is determined to not get involved, no matter how good looking he is, or how pleasant his company.
Duncan has other ideas.
Before she can really sort out what she's going to do about the man, Phoebe is brutally attacked and sexually assaulted in the stairwell of her police precinct, and her unwillingness to traumatize her complicated family leaves her with little choice but to rely on Duncan for a place to come to terms with her attack. It's as he's helping her deal - no pushing, no manipulating, no overprotecting, just helping - that she starts to realize that the heavy burden of responsibility is easier to bear with him beside her. She doesn't want to look too closely at that feeling.
She can't help but find herself turning to Duncan again and again, though, as mysterious and vaguely threatening things start happening around her house, and a matter at work blows up in her face. Soon her whole family is drawn into a dangerous game with a sadistic killer intent on punishing Phoebe for something only a twisted mind and an evil heart could dream up. Terror rises like waves of heat off the pavement as the summer sun beats down on Savannah, and Phoebe will need all the support Duncan can offer to make it out of this with her family safe and the public protected from a madman intent on taking them all with him.
The preeminent romance novelist Nora Roberts brings another strong, thorough romantic suspense to her readers with High Noon, a book that captures the feel of the historic Savannah and some of its inhabitants with typical Roberts aplomb while delivering a taut suspense that will chill and thrill. Truly gifted with an ability to imbue her characters with believability and depth, Roberts introduces us to the proud and able Phoebe MacNamara, a strong woman, excellent at her job, who has been the true emotional head of her family since a trauma they suffered when she was only twelve. She is now as she was then, the glue that holds it all together, the strength that they all count on, and the courage on which they have come to depend.
Phoebe is the true core of this novel, and Roberts graces us with an up close and personal look at the woman and her life. Her strengths and weaknesses are spread out over a bed of lyrical prose colored with the south and the warm vitality of the places and characters around her. And it's a style of writing that I find very satisfying when I'm in the mood to read some solid character-driven story.
Duncan is a charmer, but took more of a secondary character role in the book, and that may bother some readers who favor the romance of a book over the suspense. He was well developed and thoroughly incorporated into the story and into Phoebe's life as the story progresses, and their relationship developed with all of the organic and realistic emotional evolution that I've come to expect from any Roberts book, but he is not as central a focus as Phoebe is, especially towards the latter half of the book.
The suspense plot threads were extremely well woven into the overall novel, starting ever so slowly and gradually building only after the characters and their lives and the romance aspects had been well laid and thoroughly fleshed out. Those readers anxious for the suspense to kick off from the start are going to have to be a bit patient for the payoff, but when those threads start to take a greater and greater focus in the book, it truly explodes across the pages and leaves some rather disturbing carnage in its wake. And the lesser plot threads, romance, and sundry lesser conflicts definitely entertain before the big show truly gets rocking.
I do have one complaint, and it's something that transcends this book; I've noticed it in several of the more currently published Roberts books I've read recently. For whatever reason, over the last few years there's been a stylistic change in how Roberts writes dialogue and it's starting to get on my nerves.
She writes beautifully descriptive and lyrical prose, and offers narratives that brilliantly capture scenery and characters, fleshing them out and defining them with such a sense of realism that it feels like these places and people are fond haunts and close friends within moments of their introduction. And yet the dialogue between the characters has been reduced to truncated sentences and abbreviated grammar. This is especially glaring in scenes where there is a lengthy conversation between characters, without much action surrounding it. It makes the dialogue feel choppy, abrupt, and glib, and robs it of a natural conversational flow. People just don't talk in that manner. In this book especially, set in the Deep South where people never say in five words what can be said in fifteen, and culture demands much in the way of stylistic speech patterns, it was jarring and often dischordant.
I hope that's a stylistic change that will be rectified some day, because it's become the one glaring black mark on the works of an author I've adored for decades.
I suppose I could also say that I thought the ending of this book was rather abrupt, or I wish more had been offered to round out, further develop, or conclude some of the plot threads (e.g. Essie's agoraphobia), but truly, that's also part and parcel of what makes Roberts' novels seem like true slice-of-life moments. Like these characters were living their lives and dealing with all the minutia of everything from foibles to finery in a real and believable fashion long before you started reading about them, and will continue along as they have been doing long after you're finished reading about them. It's another of Roberts' gifts.
And really, Roberts has so very many gifts when it comes to writing. Between the lovable characters, the complex and layered plots, and the realistic scenery, it's hard to argue that Roberts is not only prolific, but a master of her craft. And neither the small quibbles and minor complaints, nor the larger concern over a stylistic change, can take away the fact that whenever I'm in the mood for a sure-bet book, one I know, without looking and regardless of the blurb on the back cover, will satisfy most if not all of my happy-reader requirements, I reach for a Roberts book. Every time.
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