The Reef, by Nora Roberts

>> Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I was going through Nora Roberts' backlist with someone who's never read her before (*gasp*), telling her a bit about each book, when I realized there's a bit of a black hole in my memory for her single title romantic suspense titles published in the 1997 - 1999 period. I'd see the titles...Sanctuary, Homeport, River's End, The Reef, and though I knew I had them at home and that I'd read them, I had only the vaguest memories of them. And then I got home and realized that I couldn't even find one of them, River's End. So I got a copy of it online and I'll be re(reading) these four titles in the next weeks, trying to figure out just why I found them so forgettable. I started with The Reef, this past weekend.

New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts returns to a familiar subject-treasure, the kind of treasure found among the shipwrecks in the balmy waters of the West Indies and the treasure of love--love of family, love between the unlikeliest of partners, love found and lost and found again.

Marine archeologist Tate Beaumont finds herself thrown together with salvager Matthew Lassiter, eight years after he brutally crushed her first stirrings of young love, as they again attempt to locate Angelique's Curse, an amulet heavy with jewels and history, tainted by blood and madness. An earlier expedition ended in betrayal and tragedy, changing both their lives forever and leaving their families inextricably entwined.

Matthew has an agenda of his own: to draw out Tate's former employer, the unscrupulous and mysterious millionaire responsible for killing his father and maiming his uncle--who will stop at nothing to get his hands on Angelique's Curse. Tate and Matthew find themselves circling each other warily, each unsure of the other's motives, yet drawn together by passion and danger beneath the azure waves.
It was very enjoyable, and I can't think why it didn't make an impression. It's not Nora at her best, but I had lots of fun reading it, especially the middle section. A B.

Why the middle part? Well, what I mean by middle is actually all the part set in the present, right until the dénouement. The first part is a really long section describing the events of 8 years before the present, when the Beaumonts and Lassiters first met and first found treasure.

I'm probably going to sound weird, but my problem with this first part was that I couldn't help but read it at a breakneck speed, all but skimming each page, and I hate when I do that. This wasn't because it was all so exciting (which it was, actually), or because the action was so high-octane, but because it was just so, so obvious, that something seriously Bad was going to happen, and that they were going to lose everything and that Tate and Matthew were going to be separated. I mean, we wouldn't have had a novel otherwise. So all those 100+ pages were read with this sense of impending doom which had me reading quicker and quicker, because the sooner I could get over the unpleasantness and on to the real story, to the present, the better. Which means I ended up skimming a lot of this part, and that blows.

But once I got to section 2... ah, bliss. This was more like it. Without that sense of tragedy hanging over all the action, I could enjoy the treasurehunting, and with more mature characters and not even a whiff of puppy love and hero worship, I could enjoy the romance even more.

I loved Matthew. Even at the end of the first section, for once, I completely supported him when he made a major decision for Tate. Yep, same decision you see in so many books: that he should break up with her as hard as possible so that she could get a real life of her own, because staying with him wasn't going to be good for her. I thought Tate at 20 was nowhere near ready for the kind of sacrifice she was so bent on making, and that she would have ended up hating him if she had, so Matthew really did do her a favour.

And I'm quite a sadist, it seems, because I loved how their relationship was when they finally met again. Matthew is still crazy about Tate after all these years, only now she refuses to give him anything other than lust. She's not ready to give him her love again, when he tossed it away all those years ago. Even when she finds out he did love her back then, she can't bring herself to love him immediately, and, even approving of what he had done, I sympathized with her.

There's lots of family interaction here, apart from the romance, and that was a wonderful part of the book. The rest of the Lassiters and Beaumonts have fondness for each other and a friendship that doesn't depend on Tate and Matthew's relationship, and that was lovely to read.

All well and wonderful, but then we come to the not so good part: the whole ending, when our villain VanDyke comes to the forefront again. This guy was NOT a compelling, interesting villain. If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times: a crazy psycho who does evil things just because he's evil and crazy and obsessed, bores me. Just as with the main characters, I want someone whose motivations are understandable... who actually has motivations other than "because".

Anyway, this being a romance novel and this being the ending, I knew the good guys were obviously going to win, so it was ok reading it. Ok, but not particularly good, I'm afraid. Luckily, the middle part was wonderful enough to mostly compensate for the unsatisfying end sections.

All in all, a promising beginning to my rereading binge. I hope that, just as this one, the others don't disappoint.

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