The Search, by Nora Roberts

>> Saturday, August 21, 2010

TITLE: The Search
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 488

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author

To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life-a quaint house on an island off Seattle's coast, a thriving dog-training school, and a challenging volunteer job performing canine search and rescues. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare...

Several years ago, Fiona was the only survivor of the Red Scarf serial killer, who shot and killed Fiona's cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.

On Orcas Island, Fiona found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. But all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He's the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy, foisted upon him by his mother. Jaws has eaten through Simon's house, and he's at his wit's end.

To Fiona, Jaws is nothing she can't handle. Simon, however, is another matter. A newcomer to Orcas, he's a rugged and in-tensely private artist, known for the exquisite furniture he creates from wood. Simon never wanted a puppy-and he most definitely doesn't want a woman. Besides, the lanky redhead is not his type. But tell that to his hormones.

As Fiona embarks on training Jaws, and Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona's life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the woman who slipped out of his hands...
Simon Doyle has a psycho puppy. Jaws may look cute, but that cuteness hides the soul of a plunderer. Attila the Hun could take lessons from the little guy on how to raze a place to the ground and destroy everything in sight.

Fortunately, Orcas Island has a top dog trainer living there, just a few minutes from Simon's. Fiona Bristow is happy to take Jaws on, and is even happier to meet his sexy owner. Simon is less ready to fall for this woman who just isn't his type (he tells himself), but Fiona's courses are as much about training the owners as about training the dogs, so they end up spending a lot of time together.

But the relatively smooth development of their new relationship is interrupted by a horror out of Fiona's past. Years earlier, Fiona was the target of a serial killer called the Red Scarf killer by the press. She was actually abducted by this man, but managed to escape. In retaliation, the killer murdered Fiona's fiance, but was injured during the attack and captured by the police. Since then, he has been sitting in jail. But then someone else starts killing in the exact same way as the Red Scarf killer, down to details that the police never released to the press. And it quickly becomes clear that this new Red Scarf killer wants to outdo the original one, and that can only involve killing the one that got away.

As with all of Nora Roberts latest single titles, reading The Search was an immersive experience. It's a meaty, satisfying read, with a really good and balanced combination of romance and suspense.

It felt quite fresh, too. Sometimes with NR, much as I love her books, I'll meet the characters and immediately think "Oh, she's like so-and-so in book X, and he's a bit like that other guy in book Y, and their relationship is like the one in book Z". I didn't get that feeling at all here, most especially with Simon. He's quite a refreshingly different character. He's a bit grumpy and defensive of his own place, and not particularly looking for someone to nurture and love, but he's not a jerk or a commitment-phobe. He doesn't see Fiona and immediately think that he's got to have her, it takes longer than that. It's more that he becomes used to her and her friendly overtures, and once he is, he misses her if she's not there. This probably sounds unromantic, but it really isn't. I found it more convincing that this was real love than I might have with a "romantic" coup de foudre.

Improbably, considering how many romantic suspense books with serial killers are out there, the serial killer angle also felt fresh. I liked that by the time the story started, Fiona has very much dealt with what happened to her all those years ago, and she's very strong for it. Having the copycat emerge and being plunged into things all over again isn't easy for her, but she copes. She needs support to do so, and she doesn't refuse to get it. I also liked that the FBI agents investigating the case are competent and good about keeping Fiona involved and up-to-date, and that she and Simon actually let them get on with it. Fiona has some insights into things based on her work with the dogs (which, in a way, requires to get into their minds in the way the FBI profilers would do with the killer), but she and Simon don't fool themselves into believing that they should be the ones investigating the case. The only time when they take over is right at the end, and that made complete sense, as Fiona had much more experience in the particular area needed than any FBI agent could.

NR's books these days seem all to have a "thing" that permeates them, and about which we learn more than we ever imagined we would. There was home renovation in Tribute, animal sanctuaries in Black Hills, wedding planning in her latest Brides quartet, and here we have dog training and canine search and rescue. Fascinating stuff, and even though I'm more a cat person, the dogs were just fabulous. They felt real and had their own very distinct personalities, which I loved.

The other thing I found interesting was that it's not just that we see a lot of exactly what Fiona does when she trains her clients and when she leads search and rescue operations. The work she does affects the very way she sees the world and relates to people. A lot of the dog training methodology and vocabulary extends to her human-human relationships, as well. Simon, especially, gets a bit annoyed when he realises that in many ways, Fiona is "training" him! It is, however, not presented as this awful manipulativeness on Fiona's part, which I found refreshing. It's more that she can tell how Simon will react to different things, so she behaves accordingly. Nothing wrong with that!



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