The Collector, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, September 04, 2014

TITLE: The Collector
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 496

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one...

Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn't capable of violence-against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession...

Lila Emerson has the ultimate nomadic lifestyle. An up-and-coming author of YA paranormal books, Lila is also a full-time house-sitter. When people go on holiday Lila comes in and stays at their houses, takes care of their pets, waters their plants, and so on. She has no fixed address. All she owns fits in a couple of suitcases, and she just stays at a friend's on the few days she's ever in between jobs.

Lila is someone who's very interested in people, and she likes nothing better than to watch the world out of her window (with binoculars, which I thought was a little bit over the intrusiveness line). It's a harmless hobby, she thinks, until late one night she witnesses a murder, a woman punched and pushed out a window. It was, the police tell her later, a murder-suicide.

Famous artist Ashton Archer is the brother of Oliver, the young man who apparently killed the woman, who was his girlfriend, and then himself. Ash does not believe it for a minute. And when he overhears a conversation at the police station and realises Lila was an eyewitness, he approaches her.

It turns out there's evidence that Oliver could not have killed his girlfriend. And then it becomes clear that whoever did it is still hovering round, obviously not having got whatever it was they were after.

The Collector was an ok read, but far from Roberts' best.

The plot was a bit of a mess. Roberts managed to make me believe some unlikely things, but others just did't convince. For instance, I had absolutely no problem with how Lila and Ash started talking to each other, even though you might think having a woman who's just witnessed a murder going for coffee with the apparent murderer's brother would be proof she's TSTL. But no, Roberts did it in such a way that it was believable and understandable. On the other hand, when Ash made a discovery about what the killers might have been after and decided that he and Lila should hide it from the police and investigate on their own, I just went "nope". The police had clearly demonstrated they were approaching the investigation with an open mind (they were the ones who found proof that it wasn't murder-suicide, after all), but Ash decides that he (a painter!) should investigate, because the police would not keep him fully appraised of developments (the entitled idiot!). When this leads to something really, really awful happening and Ash blamed himself, I completely agreed. In fact, I thought he should have felt a lot guiltier than he did.

Things do get better on that front, though, and I ended up mostly enjoying the process of the investigation. It's a world of priceless art objects and interesting characters, and the resolution is ingenious (if slightly marred by a completely unnecessary and obligatory-feeling action scene right at the end).

I mostly liked the romance (both the main one and the sweet secondary one between Lila and Ash's respective friends), but I felt the main characters weren't completely successful, and there were parts of their supposed personalities and characters I didn't completely buy.

Lila is supposed to be a bit of a commitment-phobe, but I didn't really see it in her character or the way she behaved. There are quite a few discussions and disagreements with Ash because she neglects to call him when something goes wrong, or she gets upset that he sorted out some details for her, but I just didn't feel that was evidence of issues with commitment. Those incidents were more about Lila being used to being independent, living alone and sorting things out on her own, than about her having any problems with commitment. She just wasn't used to all those things that go without saying when you're in a relationship. I identified with that particular experience quite a bit, because it's exactly what happens whenever I'm in a new relationship or even when I go spend a month with my parents in Uruguay over Christmas. It's not about fearing ties, it's about being used to dealing with things oneself. It just takes a while before it starts ocurring to you that there's another option, that's all. It's an interesting thing to explore in a relationship, those tensions that come when you first get together, and I liked how it was done, I just didn't feel it supported what Roberts was trying to establish.

As for Ash, he's a famous painter who comes from a very privileged and chaotic family. His father's been married quite a few times, and Ash's immediate family is big and complicated enough that he actually has to keep track of it on a spreadsheet (which tickled me). But you can't really see any of that in his personality. He's just a regular, quite centred guy (if you discount his idiotic decision to investigate on his own, but that's a one-off in the book). He doesn't seem to think like an artist. He does think about how he wants to paint Lila a few times, but that was it. He could have had pretty much any occupation and have been the same character (plus, his paintings sounded really naff). I did like how he was clearly the de facto head of the family, instead of his dad, and I thought the conflict between Lila and his father (who thinks she's a gold-digger) was really well done, but Ash himself didn't gel as a character.

Neither did the main antagonist, who starts out reading like a pretty professional enforcer/assassin, and then turns into a psycho. That didn't really work for me, as I didn't find the character believable.

So yeah, I mostly enjoyed this as I was reading it, but there were a few too many problems with it.



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