The Obsession, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, May 01, 2016

TITLE: The Obsession
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense

“She stood in the deep, dark woods, breath shallow and cold prickling over her skin despite the hot, heavy air. She took a step back, then two, as the urge to run fell over her.”

Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can’t outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes.

Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, a rambling old house in need of repair, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the kindly residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.

Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But the sins of her father can become an obsession, and, as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.
The Obsession starts with a real bang, when 12-year-old Naomi innocently follows her dad into the forest one night. She first thinks he's going to take a dip in the lake and she wants to cool off, too. When he goes into a hidden cellar instead, she thinks he's putting together a bike for her birthday gift. She can't resist a peek when he's done, but instead finds a naked, terrified woman. She's still alive, but from photos stuck to the walls, it's clear she's not the first, and others haven't been so lucky. I kept expecting frustrating developments, with Naomi wavering about what to do, but it was one of those incredibly satisfying things where little Naomi shows incredible strength of mind and does exactly what she should do.

For the first quarter or so of the book, we follow Naomi's life as a child and teenager, getting snapshots of her life, including the struggles of living with a mother who is still affected by the mental abused her husband put her through and can't seem to break free of it now that he's in prison. In that sense, the book reminded me a bit of The Witness, which is actually my favourite recent Nora romantic suspense single title.

And then we get onto the present day, which is when the bulk of the story takes place. Naomi is a photographer who lives her life travelling, living all around the US. He spends a little bit of time in one place and then moves on. But as we meet her again in her mid-20s, she's shocked herself by falling in love with a massive, ran-down house in the little town of Sunrise Cove, in Washington State. She hasn't just fallen in love, she's gone and bought it.

And a big long section in the middle of the book is basically about Naomi presiding over the restoration of house (think the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy) and settling into the life of Sunrise Cove. She becomes friends with the contractor doing the restoration and with his wife, and she gets involved with Xander Keaton.

Xander is the local mechanic. He plays in a band, is hugely into reading, and is determined to push past Naomi's barriers. These are considerable, as she's become used to people changing the way they behave with her when they find out who she is (her father, it turned out, was one of the worst serial killers in history, and there were books and a major film based on Naomi's actions). But Xander is relentless (enough to actually put my back up a couple of times, but he stays just on the right side of the line between persistent and pushy), and soon they are involved in a serious relationship.

This section of the book shouldn't really work. There isn't a huge deal of tension (as I said, any obstacles to a romance are soon got over) and what's objectively way too much DIY. Did I care, though? No, I didn't. I was enjoying myself too much.

It's not till the second half that the book becomes romantic suspense. Now, that element was probably the weakest part of the book. It was really, really predictable. I knew the book was romantic suspense from the back cover. The "her past is never more than a nightmare away" bit makes it clear there's going to be some sort of crime like Naomi's father's in her vicinity. This hadn't happened by the halfway point, so I stopped for a minute and thought, and was able to guess exactly which character would be the villain. Even before a crime had taken place. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, it was all really pretty obvious.

I still enjoyed it. I could see the flaws here and the things that shouldn't work, but for me, they did. I loved the shocking start and I really liked seeing the aftermath and the glimpses into Naomi's life as a teenager. I loved the day-to-day life in Sunrise Cove, I loved seeing Naomi start to fit in and make friends, I enjoyed her relationship with Xander. I even enjoyed the investigation once things go into romantic suspense territory, particularly because Naomi's brother Mason has become an FBI agent, and he worms himself into the investigation (I really doubt that would have happened, but I was able to go with it). It's the relationships beyond the romance that make this book so good.

MY GRADE: Surprisingly to me, a B+.


Brie 1 May 2016 at 23:35  

I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I really liked the very first part that showed what happened and how Naomi and her family dealt with it, but then it went pear shaped. The remodeling elements felt like one of her contemporary trilogies forced in the middle of a romantic suspense, as if the mystery/suspense wasn't enough to fill a whole book. But I might have gone along with it, if the whole thing wasn't a pastiche of previous books: Naomi is the exact same heroine of the 1st bride quartet book; Xander is the same hero of the 4th bride book; the renovation elements were from the Boonsboro series; etc. Roberts is a pretty formulaic author, but this was straight up recycling of characters and plot elements. And then there was all the comments Xander kept making about how Naomi wasn't like other women. Oh, she takes no time getting ready! Oh, she doesn't carry a huge purse! Oh, she's not clingy! UUUGGHHH!!! It drove me to distraction.

But hey, at least there wasn't a mermaid in sight! ;-) (and I liked it so much better than The Collector!).

meljean brook 2 May 2016 at 07:23  

Oh, maybe I'll pick this one up faster than I might have normally. I haven't read the Boonsboro trilogy or bride quartet (I usually stay away from her contemporary trilogies and just go for J.D. Robb and the once-a-year suspense -- I used to love the paranormal trilogies but then some elements really started getting to me, so no.) But it sounds like the things that would bother me aren't things I'm going to notice as much as I would have if I'd read those. Whoo.

Speaking of suspense and authors whose work is hit or miss for me, I recently read a Troublemaker ARC (Linda Howard) and really enjoyed it. It didn't feel like Linda Howard as much, actually -- it was almost 40% before any attraction between the characters kicked in and a little slow in that regard. It felt almost like one of Nora's suspense novels, but not? Anyway, it was pretty enjoyable, which I didn't expect because the last few from Howard were not anywhere close to my favorites. But also it didn't feel like classic, Silhouette-era Howard, either. It was just that this review reminded me of it.

Rosario 2 May 2016 at 07:40  

Brie: You're absolutely right, of course, and if I read that description I'd probably go "nope". But I don't know what it was about how all those flawed elements came together that the whole really worked for me anyway. Nora has been writing pastiches for a while now, and I've made my peace with it. As long as there are no mermaids! :)

Meljean: I used to like the paranormal trilogies as well, but the last one that really worked for me was the Circle Trilogy. The Sign of Seven was ok, but not one I've ever been tempted to reread. Anyway, hope not having read many of her most recent will mean you love this one!

Ohhh, thanks for mentioning the new LH. I had noted it down in my wish list, since it sounded ok, but with a great big question mark. It's been years and years since I've read any of her books; I think the last were the plane crash one and the one with time travel, and those two were a bit of a mess. Good to hear this was a return to form, I'll give it a try!

meljean brook 2 May 2016 at 08:07  

It was not what I think of as Howard suspense usually -- like with Dream Man, for example, or Mr. Perfect, where the suspense part was a strong thread throughout. Much like what you describe in NR's book, it showed up late -- it was mostly small town slow romance, and the suspense part bookended the rest. That plot started the story and was the reason the hero and heroine meet, but then drops away until the final chapters.

But I really enjoyed the heroine, and the hero was a strong military type but not overbearing like some Howard heroes were. So if I hadn't known it was Howard, I would have been surprised by discovering who the author was. The town was pretty fun, though, so I didn't mind the suspense part missing so much.

Brie 5 May 2016 at 00:49  

Re. new LH: What I really want to know is, does the hero perv on the heroine when she is a child? Because that's how I like my Linda Howard books. Okay, that's a lie--I like all her books, pervy heroes or not, and you're the second person who says this new book is good, so I'm super excited because I seriously adore her and not loving her more recent ones was making me super sad.

meljean brook 5 May 2016 at 04:26  

Ha! No perving. Sorry :-D

Also no putting on the condom while still wearing his pants and dancing on the balcony.

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