Sacred Sins, by Nora Roberts

>> Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sacred Sins is one of two linked Nora Roberts romantic suspense books from the late 1980s. I've been rereading her older books in the past couple of years, and I read the other one, Brazen Virtue, some months ago. BV actually comes after SS, so I don't know why I reread it before!


There's no escaping the sizzling heat of the Washington summer... or the twisted ministry of "The Priest" -a madman who is strangling slender, pretty blondes with the white silk scarf of a priest, leaving notes that forgive his victims.

But it's the flame of white-hot passion that is giving Tess Court and Ben Paris real trouble -two professionals who can't quite keep a professional distance from each other.

TESS COURT: the top-notch shrink assigned to the case by the mayor, is slender, pretty and blonde...

BEN PARIS: a magnetic police sergeant in charge of the investigation, is unable to resist her.

But someone else has his eyes on Tess... someone who dreams of saving her, of cleansing her soul with his special brand of absolution in the hot, still night.
As I write this review, I'm reading yet another police procedural / romantic suspense book by this author, and I think I can honestly say that very few authors can balance romance and a police investigation as well as Nora Roberts. The one I'm reading right now is the latest J.D. Robb, and it might be a bit better than this one, but SS shows that even 19 years ago, Nora knew what she was doing. A very enjoyable B+.

A serial killer is murdering slim, 20-something, blonde women in the streets of Washington D.C., strangling them with an amice, that scarf-like garment Catholic priests wear over their robes during Mass. The very original newspapers are therefore calling the guy "The Priest". What wit!

Cop Ben Paris and his partner, Ed Jackson (who's the hero of the next book), are investigating the case, but they're getting nowhere fast. And yet, when their captain is pressured by the mayor into consulting with a psychiatrist, Ben is very resistant to the idea.

But Dr. Tess Court is nothing like he expected: not cold and clinical and not a tall, thin, balding guy either (should I even mention that Ben had a very negative experience with a psychiatrist before this?). And neither did Ben expect to like and be attracted to her. But slim, 20-something, blonde Tess doesn't just hold Ben's attention, but the killer's as well.

I love romantic suspense like this one, where the romance and the suspense are equally strong. I'm not much of a suspense reader, and usually see the suspense subplot in a rom. susp. as something to be tolerated in order to get to read the romance, not as something to enjoy. This means that the fact that I'm saying I liked the suspense as much as the romance quite a big compliment.

I enjoyed the subtlety with which the murderer was portrayed and I was fascinated by the investigation, most especially with Tess insights into the killer's mind. The conclusions she was able to draw from the evidence were interesting, and felt right (obviously, I'm no psychiatrist. Maybe a pro will read this and say it sucked, but well, I'm saying it felt right).

Maybe the reason why the romance and the suspense felt so well-integrated was because much of the personal conflict between Tess and Ben stemmed from the same differences which drew them apart professionally. I thought Roberts did a very good job in describing the chasm between their different views, between Tess' insistence on understanding the murderer's mind, with a view on helping him, and Ben's determination to stop him and make sure he's punished, for the victims' sake. What I liked best here was how both these views were presented without the author making a judgment. Neither Ben nor Tess are proved wrong, both their views are valid, however different they are, and in the end, it doesn't mean they can't love each other anyway. This reminds me a bit of Eve and Roarke, and the way they mesh together just fine in spite of Eve's by-the-rules stance and Roarke's more relaxed approach.

Anyway, I liked pretty much everything about this book. Even Ben's resistance to adding Tess to the investigation didn't bother me much. There was a risk of him looking like an idiot for refusing to take advantage of Tess' potentially invaluable help, but his previous experiences made it understandable. And also, the fact that this book is almost 20 years old helped me accept this better. I mean, I thought understanding the killer's mind with the help of psychologists has been pretty standard procedure for years and years, but what do I know? Maybe 20 years ago it just wasn't so!


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