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+