Wednesday, January 2, 2008

(Relatively) New Nora

High Noon by Nora Roberts
Angels Fall by Nora Roberts
Unabridged audio read by Joyce Bean

Even during the stretches when I was not reading a lot of romances, I would always pick up the latest Nora Roberts. Her characters are multi-dimensional and gifted with a sense of humor, which is always nice, and her heroines usually have interesting professions. Roberts was a groundbreaker in that regard – even when she was still writing category romances she didn’t limit her main characters to traditional “female” professions.
Phoebe MacNamara, the heroine of High Noon, is no exception. After spending a few years with the FBI, Phoebe joins the Savannah PD and becomes their chief hostage negotiator. Phoebe’s choice of profession is no accident; one of the defining experiences of her childhood was being held hostage in her home by an abusive man who had dated her mother.
Fast forward about twenty-five years: now Lieutenant MacNamara has a seven year old daughter of her own, and is the primary support for her agoraphobic mother. She juggles her high stress job and her family responsibilities with aplomb, but has a little more trouble handling the attentions of handsome Duncan Swift. The entrepeneurial Duncan is impressed by Phoebe’s skills as a negotiator and by her take charge attitude. Although Duncan has all the characteristics of the protective alpha male, he is secure enough (or evolved enough?) to give Phoebe the space she needs to handle her own problems. This is a nice twist on the typical “woman in jeopardy” storyline; Phoebe doesn’t need to be rescued or protected in any physical sense, she needs emotional support and the opportunity to develop trust. Make no mistake – there is plenty of physical danger surrounding Phoebe, and she is at one point physically attacked, but it is the psychological tension that makes this book a real page turner.
Roberts does a nice job of balancing romance with suspense in this book. She gives us occasional glimpses inside the mind of the mysterious person who is following Phoebe,
creating a creepy, threatening atmosphere in which we are constantly waiting for the figurative ax to fall. The danger begins to escalate as Phoebe and Duncan’s relationship grows more serious, thus upping the ante for everyone involved.
This is a solid, enjoyable entry into Roberts’ romantic suspense line-up. The chemistry between the hero and heroine is good and the obstacles to their relationship are believable. The secondary characters are vivid without taking over the story; the good guys are people you’d like to hang out with and the villains are suitably villainous. There are a few instances of graphic violence in parts; given Phoebe’s profession this is hardly unexpected and they do serve to move the story along.

By contrast, in Roberts’ Angels Fall the majority of the violence has taken place before the book begins. Heroine Reece Gilmore is the lone survivor of a spree killing that left more than a dozen friends and co-workers dead. As the story opens we meet Reece as she is coasting into Angels Fist, Wyoming with an overheating car and $243 and some cents to her name. She has been on the move across country for nearly a year, trying to leave behind the bad dreams and panic attacks that have followed her since the killings. Now that the rough edges are beginning to smooth out, Reece decides to settle down for a bit, earn the cash to fix her car, and see what happens.
What happens is that Reece witnesses a murder. Unfortunately, she is the only one who does, and by the time the local sheriff gets to the scene, there is no trace of anyone having been there. Enter tall, dark and handsome Brody, the first person Reece ran into while going for help after watching a woman get strangled in the wilderness. Brody believes Reece’s story, but he is in the minority. After all, she’s new in town and known to be jittery. According to the good people of Angels Fist, she’s likely imagining things or could even be making it up. Reece, however, is determined to prove she is neither a nutcase nor a liar, and so she persists in trying to find proof of the crime. As she follows the trail, strange things start happening – items in her apartment start rearranging themselves, for example. Reece struggles to maintain her belief in her own sanity, but with Brody’s help, she sticks to her guns and tracks down the killer.
Roberts does a pretty fair job of portraying panic attacks and the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I couldn’t help becoming impatient with Reece and her continuing fits of the vapors. On more than one occasion I found myself saying “Oh come on, sugar, enough with the Nervous Nellie routine; get a grip!” Part of my problem may have been the fact that I was listening to the audiobook, and didn’t have the option of skimming when I got frustrated, but I still felt that Reece should have trusted herself a little more.
Overall, the author created a fairly suspenseful tale. I enjoyed the details of Reece’s profession, and could easily envision the setting. I wasn’t that enamored of Brody (no last name that I could find) but I liked him, as well as the secondary characters, well enough to keep listening. Actress Joyce Bean, who reads the entire novel, did a nice job with all the different voices and managed to convey Reece’s feelings extremely well.
If you’ve only got time for one of these books, go with High Noon. If you are a Roberts fan or just want to spend a few cold winter days enjoying some romantic suspense, pick up either or both.

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