Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: The Obsession
The entire time I was listening to The Obsession by Nora Roberts the phrase "damning with faint praise" kept running through my mind.  Which means I feel the need to explain how I tend to approach romantic suspense.

I was a mystery/suspense reader long before romance, so when it comes to romantic suspense I tend to be a Suspense First, Love Cooties Second kind of gal.  And I've long accepted that this puts me in a small minority in Romancelandia.  The premise of this book is dynamite.  Roberts really outdid herself cooking up this one.  The downside?  With the suspense concept so dynamite I totally began to think of the "romance stuff" as "filler."  Which probably isn't a good sign.

Shortly before her 12th birthday, Naomi Carson follows her father out into the early morning dawn and discovers he's a monster.  He's been raping and murdering women for years, using an old, abandoned cellar to carry-out his evil.  Naomi discovers a woman, still alive, that day and rescues her.  Her father is arrested, but it's only the beginning.  Her, her mother, her younger brother, go to live with mother's brother - looking for a fresh start.  But the past doesn't stay buried - even after Naomi is all grown up, and finally trying to settle down in the Pacific Northwest.

The first part of this book is bloody fantastic.  It's the story of Young Naomi, her rescuing her father's latest victim, her father's arrest, and the fall-out from realizing that Daddy is a monster.  Then the story jumps to present day.  After years of traveling the country, working as a photographer, Naomi falls in love with a rundown house, decides to fix it up, plant roots, and falls in love (rather unwillingly at first) with Xander Keaton, local mechanic, singer in a bar band, and all around good guy.  She's finally starting to settle down, to let people get close, when someone following in her father's footsteps finds her.

Here's the issue.  Once we're past the Young Naomi portion of the story, we get into Settling Down Grown-up Naomi.  Grown-up Naomi:

Buys a rundown house
Hires a contractor to fix it up
Blah, blah, blah whole bunch of renovation/remodeling porn
Finds an abandoned dog
Keeps the abandoned dog, reluctantly
Falls in love with the dog, because of course
Starts tap-dancing around Xander
Cooks several delicious meals
Takes a bunch of photographs - work, work, work
Romance, romance, blah blah blah....

I. Don't. Care.

Yes, it's harsh.  But the whole concept of this book (that even serial killers can, and sometimes do, have loved ones, family, friends - they're not always loners....) is so fantastic.  That's what I want.  I want more of that.  I don't give a flying hoot about Naomi finding the perfect desk to rehab for her home office.  Or that she makes Eggs Benedict for Xander and he practically orgasms on the spot.

I. Just. Don't. Care.

But back to the suspense.  Once it shows up again (Praise Jeebus!), Naomi has to stop running from her past and admit some hard truths.  The one (and it's big) downside is that while the concept of the suspense is fantastic, the actually WhoDunIt is....obvious.  As in, really, really obvious.  I felt like Roberts' tipped her hand way too early and there are no credible red herrings or uses of misdirection.  Which made getting through the I. Don't. Care. Renovation, Dog Owning, Cooking Porn even more tedious.  I know who the bad guy is.  Can't we just skip all this other stuff and get to the end?

Seriously, I wonder what this book would have been like as a Harlequin Intrigue?  I'm thinking pretty awesome.

The world-building is good, the characterizations are good, and Roberts writes small town life in a way that doesn't make me want to put my fist through a wall (no cutesy cupcake shops!).  And Roberts is a great storyteller.  This is a good story.  The plot concept is great!  But it's how it's executed that I found myself bored by.  I also wanted the mystery to be a bit beefier.  Some twists and turns would have been nice.  This is more straight line.  Wide open space.

I'm not sure where this leaves me and my reaction to this book.  I hate giving it a low grade.  I recognize the good story.  I recognize that I liked these people, I liked the concept - I just didn't really care for how it was all executed.  So it's going to be a middling grade, but it's honestly probably better than that.  Especially if you're a Romance First, Suspense Second romantic suspense reader.

Final Grade = C+


azteclady said...

I liked it a bit more than you did--mostly because I loved the dog, and Mason--but yeah, I wish Roberts would not have telegraphed the identity of the killer.

I have other issues with Mr Roberts' writing (I mentioned them over at Erin Burns' blog), but more and more in her suspense novels, there's that one scene that tells you who did it.

SonomaLass said...

I also liked it more than you did. Some of her recent work has had more of the criminal's POV, which creeps me out. I would have been okay not knowing who he was, but it also didn't really bother me that I knew. It was believable that Naomi didn't know, which we all that mattered to me.

I liked the dog part. The home renovation went a little too long, but it was integrated with the process of Naomi learning to trust people, making friends, putting down roots, and I liked that a lot. Also I loved her family; her unclea and brother were great characters,

Wendy said...

The beginning of this novel, for me, was easily an A. I just loved everything about this set-up, the plot, Naomi's backstory - all of it. So moving on from that to focus more on the romance was a bit of a letdown for me. And I totally acknowledge that it's my romantic suspense reading quirk. I totally "get" all the positive reviews I've seen. I'm just a weirdo (which I totally embrace).

I know Roberts writes her hard cover releases as stand-alones, but this was one book I could easily see her spinning off into a series. I thought the cast of characters was well drawn and Roberts did a good job building up those relationships. And yes, Mason. Mason could totally get his own book. And heck, he has huge potential for a romantic suspense story what with his past and job and all.

Phyl said...

I liked it, too, but I also think your criticisms are valid.

How about a 2-book series? I would *love* to see Naomi's brother get his own book. Pretty please...

And finally, didn't all of the house renovation stuff seem too similar to last year's stand-alone, The Liar? Am I the only one who thought so?

nath said...

Like every other commentors, I did like it more than you did :) I actually enjoyed the reno, settling in and dog parts. I guess for me, it's all part of NR writing. Still, I'm happy with the C+ you gave it :)

Perhaps it's something she should look into - less romance, more suspense. Then again, I bet there'd be tons of people yelling LOL.

I wouldn't mind her writing Mason's book :)

Nikki said...

I liked it quite a bit, actually. I like reading about reno, dog acquiring, making friends, etc. NR is kind of a comfort read for me--I know bad things can happen, but not horrifying things, if you don't count the serial killer part.

Wendy said...

Phyl: The Liar is one I haven't read, so I can't comment. But one I do have in my TBR is Tribute which looks like...more home reno - LOL

Nath: And I'm so in the minority. In fact I think the thing that romance readers appreciate the most about Roberts' single title hard covers is that she HASN'T thrown out all traces of romance. Her books are still pretty heavy in that department, even as other authors have dumped the romance for more straight-up suspense. So yeah, I'm the weirdo. But I LOVED the suspense premise of this book so much, I just wanted all of that all of the time.

Nikki: What I like about Roberts' writing is that she's a good storyteller. I can fall right into her books, positively plow through them, and we're talking somewhere in the range of 450 pages. I wonder if a lot of my impatience with the romance and "other stuff" outside of the suspense had to do with the fact that I listened to this on audio. Can't really skim over that stuff when you're listening to audio....

azteclady said...

Wendy, I just recently listened to this one, and I really liked the narrator. Your thoughts on her?

Wendy said...

AL: Re: the narrator - I REALLY liked her. Her name is Shannon McManus and I'd never heard her before. I thought she did a good job on male and female voices alike, and she didn't go all syrupy during the sex scenes.

azteclady said...

Yes, exactly!

nath said...

Wendy, have you ever read Karen Rose? And if not, please do!! :)

Wendy said...

Nath: Back in the Dark Ages I read Count to Ten and really, really enjoyed it. I've got a ton of Karen Rose in the TBR but she writes longer books and I keep side-stepping them for shorter word counts given my current lack of mojo. But I definitely need to get over that and read more!