Sanctuary, by Nora Roberts

>> Monday, August 29, 2005

Sanctuary is the second of my forgotten Nora Roberts books I blogged about last week.

Following the success of Montana Sky , Roberts bases another story on the three siblings in that novel: Jo Ellen, Brian, and Lexy Hathaway of Sanctuary Inn, a B & B on Lost Desert Island, off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. Jo Ellen is a successful photographer who collapses under the mental anguish of seeing a picture in which her mother is young, beautiful, naked, and unmistakably dead. Her mother disappeared 20 years before, shattering a close-knit family.

When the photo disappears while Jo Ellen is in the hospital, she returns to Sanctuary to recover her sanity and mend her relationships with Brian, the chef for the inn, and Lexy, an aspiring actress. The arrival of Nathan Delaney, whose family stayed on the island the summer her mother disappeared, further complicates Jo Ellen's life. Nathan wants Jo Ellen, but he is tormented by a secret that has lured a killer to Sanctuary and to Jo Ellen.
A good, satisfying romantic suspense, with a good balance between the romance and the suspense. A B+.

It turns out I remembered more about Sanctuary than I did about The Reef. I didn't actually remember how the book developed, but right from the very beginning, the answer to who was responsible for what appeared in my mind.

Did this diminish the plot in any way? Well, of course, knowing all the answers eliminated a lot of the "I wonder who, I wonder why" suspense, but from my vague memories, I believe I might have enjoyed the story more this time around.

It's just that the answers to the mystery are just so enormously shocking, that I don't think I was able to compute, really, on that first read. What I had been guessing and supposing all throughout the book was just so far from what was actually going on, that I couldn't simply take this new info and look back on what I'd just read and understand it. Knowing the answers beforehand, I was able to read everything and catch all the clues, and believe me, there were plenty of them, so the suspense made perfect sense this time.

I particularly enjoyed the final, climatic scenes. Truly nerve-racking, and having this all happen in the middle of a huge hurricane was very timely, given current events.

This was all good, but the book's main strength was, as is usual with Roberts, the character stuff. She creates some interesting people, and it was wonderful to read about them interacting with each other. Not just the romances (though there are quite a few of those... three of them, plus what felt to me like the beginning of one), what I loved best was the way Jo rebuilt her relationship with Brian and Lexy, the way Sam finally realized he's abandoned his children and needs to work on becoming their father again, the way Nathan makes Giff realize he can have his dreams, the way Jo and Kirby turn their childhood friendship into one between two grown women.... and so many different combinations and permutations, it was all great.

And so were the romances. Kirby and the prickly Brian (a big strong man in an apron is just yummy), laid-back Giff and flirty Lexy, but I think my favourite was the main one, Jo and Nathan. There was a lot there, and these two were interesting people. And the whole situation, of course, had a huge built-in conflict.

Nathan was an especially interesting character to me. The thing that I liked best about what Roberts did with him would be a spoiler, so I will write in brown: [start spoiler] I was very fascinated by the way Nathan had to deal with his memories of his father, now that he has found out that this man, who was a wonderful dad, was also a cold-blooded murderer. How does he reconcile this great guy, who apparently loved his children and wife and gave them a great life, with a man capable of raping, torturing and murdering a woman, without any conscience problems? I've been in... not in his shoes, but in shoes that were a bit similar. It was difficult to assimilate, and I thought Roberts did a great job with Nathan's reactions.[end spoiler].

Negatives? Well, I thought Roberts went a bit too far with the graphic descriptions of the killer's doings. I found it all very disturbing. I actually had to stop reading a couple of times until my stomach settled. And what made it worse was that Roberts had managed to make the victims so very real, that it wasn't simply reading about some abstract horrible things being done to a body, but about these horrible things being done to a person with hopes and dreams. It did work to make it all so tremendously chilling and scary and didn't feel at all gratuitous, but well, it was unpleasant to read.

What with the well-developed suspense and three interesting romances, there is certainly a lot going on in the book, but Roberts never loses control of her threads, and none of these elements feels underwritten. It's a big, juicy book, and, apart from the scary parts, I had a really good time reading it.

BTW, did anyone know Sanctuary as made into a movie? I suppose it'll probably be as bad as all movies based on romance novels seem to be, but I'm tempted to look for it ;-)


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