River's End, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, September 29, 2005

River's End is the only "big" Nora Roberts book I had missed. I thought I'd read everything she'd written since the mid-90s or so and that all I was missing was some early categories, but I realized only a few weeks ago that I'd never bought this one.

One summer night in 1979, four-year-old Olivia Tanner finds her doped-up father, Sam, bloodied shears in hand, poised over the dead body of her movie-star mom. Haunted by the image of "the monster" pursuing her, Olivia is sent to live with her grandparents in the Pacific Northwest, where she is sheltered from her memories by towering Douglas firs.

Two decades later, the specter of the "monster" returns. From prison, her father urges young investigative reporter Noah Brady -son of the police detective who discovered Olivia after the murder- to research the crime. Noah accepts this task eagerly, heedless of Olivia's rebuffs and undeterred by violence and danger, especially after Olivia begins to remember the crime.
This was a rich, interesting romantic suspense. I had trouble with the beginning, but once the story really got started, it was fascinating. A B.

As with The Reef, I spent the first 150 or so pages wishing Roberts would just hurry up and get to the present and the main story. I suppose you could argue such a huge... well, prologue, really... gave the characters depth, but I just thought it slowed things down and didn't give me anything I couldn't have got in little bits throughout the story.

Short prologue, showing the murder, and then zoom to the present, skipping all those pages and pages and pages of people reacting to Julie's death. In fact, a little mystery about what exactly this troublesome past between Olivia and Noah was would have made the romance even better.

Even better, because it was great as it was. Noah was a really good character, a nice guy whose niceness didn't make him boring in the least. I felt like his father, in that I didn't really "get" his fascination with writing true crime books, but that doesn't mean I didn't understand him pretty well.

Olivia was interesting, too. Roberts got her pricklyness just right: she didn't look stupidly stubborn, but neither was she a pushover. And her issues made sense, too.

The romance and the suspense were seamlessly integrated, each enriching the other. I was actually quite interested in the suspense side, something not at all usual in me.

lAt one point I thought Roberts was about to go overboard and shift her attention too much in the direction of Olivia's parents. Basically, I feared she was going to give us the book Noah was writing, and I just didn't find that at all compelling. Fortunately, while we did follow some of Noah's research as he made it, it wasn't excessive, and the focus of the story stayed on the present.

The main weakness in this book (other than the slow start, that is) was how predictable the identity of the real murderer was. That person had the word "murderer" written all over from the first moment (s)he appeared. And, to make matters worse, there was absolutely no exploration of his motivations at the end. The original crime did make some sense, but all the stuff he did after that, the way he started everything again, didn't. I kept thinking the best solution would have been to have Sam be the murderer after all. Now, that would have been surprising!


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