Brazen Virtue, by Nora Roberts

>> Friday, October 21, 2005

Brazen Virtue is one of Nora Roberts' often recommended novels with oxymoronic titles. It's the sequel to Sacred Sins, but it can stand on its own just fine.

Superstar mystery novelist Grace McCabe needs to unwind after a grueling book tour, and visiting her sister, whom she hasn't seen in months, seems the perfect solution. But Grace is surprised to find the fastidious Kathleen living in a grungy Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Kathleen, reeling from a bitter divorce and the loss of her son, is saving every penny of her teacher's salary to hire a hotshot lawyer for a custody battle.

Then Grace discovers that Kathleen is boosting her income with an unlikely profession: as an at-home phone-sex operator. Known as Desiree to the clients of Fantasy, Inc., Kathleen is living life on the edge. Yet how dangerous could it really be? With the ironclad anonymity the agency guarantees its employees, could anyone ever track her down?

Grace finds out one cherry-blossom-scented night when she comes home to find her sister dead, strangled with the cord of her "special" phone. Suddenly Grace's life turns into a scene from one of her own books — the horror, the tight-lipped police, the shattered survivor. Only this time the survivor is Grace herself.

But she isn't waiting around for the police to catch up with the killer. Instead she creates a daring trap to lure the killer to her. Her plan goes against every coolheaded instinct of Detective Ed Jackson, the lead investigator on the case. He's read all of Grace's books and might have been the perfect consultant for the one she's working on, though in this real-life murder, she's the last complication he needs.

He's determined to keep Grace out of harm's way, but it's too late. Her trap has already worked. She has aroused the attention of a brilliant madman, and now nothing may be able to protect her from the murderous lust that drives this killer down a path of ecstasy laced with death.
If I remember correctly, this was one of the very first Nora Roberts books I read, way back when I still had to make do with whatever I could find in the couple of local bookstores which carried books in English. I remember I'd just read Born in Fire (still now my fave Roberts), and I was frantically looking for more.

Brazen Virtue was something completely different, but I enjoyed it quite a bit too, then and now. It does feel a bit short in some parts, though, which is why I'm giving it a B.

I found myself very intrigued by the romance part of the book. Ed is just a lovely guy, someone whose description I didn't find particularly attractive (huge redheaded mountain-man type, with a full, cushiony beard. Grace actually thinks he looks like Paul Bunyan, and that's just not a good image for me). However, his personality was another matter. He's a really sweet man, a nurturing, protective homebody who eats, as his partner Ben puts it, only nuts and berries.

He's also Grace's complete opposite. Mystery author Grace is much flashier, and a bit nuts, too. She's the type of woman who makes friends with everyone and who's most comfortable in a messy, disorganized environment. She is smart and hardworking, but laid back about it, if it makes sense.

The minute Ed sees Grace he falls for her, and he falls like a ton of bricks. He's nothing at all like the woman of his dreams, the one he was imagining as he was building his wonderful dream house, but the minute he meets her, he doesn't care. Actually, the fact that his dream wife is someone who'll be fragile and need taking care of, and will just love to wash and iron his shirts, is the only thing I didn't much like about Ed. But still, I give him points for forgetting all about that and going for Grace instead.

This is a romantic suspense which is actually pretty low on the whodunnit part of the suspense. From the very beginning, you know who the killer is, you know who he's stalking and you know what he's planning to do. The fun is in seeing the cops come nearer and nearer, slowly finding out more details and making more deductions that allow them to know more and have a better chance of catching him. This worked just as well for me as a traditional romantic suspense would have.

Also, given how the first victim was Grace's sister, and how their relatioship was so conflictive, this made it easier for me to accept that she would be so insistent on being involved in the investigation. It also made it all even more personal to them all.

I thought the dénouement was a bit too abrupt, both on the romance and suspense areas. On the suspense especially, though. I really wanted to know what was going to happen with the killer's family, but there's nothing, the book just ends and that's it.

Quite a small problem, comparatively speaking. All in all, a winner.


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