Come Sundown, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, June 11, 2017

TITLE: Come Sundown
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

The Bodine ranch and resort in western Montana is a family business, an idyllic spot for vacationers. A little over thirty thousand acres and home to four generations, it’s kept running by Bodine Longbow with the help of a large staff, including new hire Callen Skinner. There was another member of the family once: Bodine’s aunt, Alice, who ran off before Bodine was born. She never returned, and the Longbows don’t talk about her much. The younger ones, who never met her, quietly presume she’s dead. But she isn’t. She is not far away, part of a new family, one she never chose?and her mind has been shattered...

When a bartender leaves the resort late one night, and Bo and Cal discover her battered body in the snow, it’s the first sign that danger lurks in the mountains that surround them. The police suspect Cal, but Bo finds herself trusting him-and turning to him as another woman is murdered and the Longbows are stunned by Alice’s sudden reappearance. The twisted story she has to tell about the past?and the threat that follows in her wake?will test the bonds of this strong family, and thrust Bodine into a darkness she could never have imagined.
In Come Sundown, we travel to Montana, where the Bodine-Longbow family run a successful ranch/resort. Bodine Longbow, the daughter of the family, is our heroine. She's confident and competent, the sort of woman who doesn't suffer fools gladly. As the book starts, Callen Skinner has just returned to the area and has taken a job at the ranch. Callen grew up there with a father who was a gambling addict and who lost pretty much all of the family's lands. He was best friends with Chase, Bodine's older brother, and she had a bit of a crush on him, but one that never turned into anything. Now that Cal is back after a successful career in Hollywood as a horse wrangler working in films, both are grown, single, and attracted to each other.

As they court, things around them start getting very worrying. A young woman working as a bartender in the resort is found murdered, and soon the same thing happens with a young college student returning home. Someone is killing young women, and one of the deputies is convinced it's Cal.

Interspersed with the present-day story, we get the story of Alice, Bodine's mother's sister. Alice is the family black sheep, as she left in a dramatic huff almost 25 years earlier (on the day of her sister's wedding, no less), and after sending a few postcards for a couple of years, disappeared off the face of the Earth. Her mother still grieves for her absence, but her sister and grandmother are still pretty angry at her.

We soon find out that Alice did not disappear of her own volition. After a couple of years she decided to come home, only she ran into the wrong guy as she hitchhiked closer to home. The man who took her was one of those American survivalist / fundamentalist types, and he decided to take her for his 'wife'. For almost 25 years, Alice has been basically his slave, trapped, beaten, constantly raped and forced to bear her captor's children. And then she escapes.

I have very mixed feelings about this one. I mostly enjoyed it as I was reading it, but now that I've finished and think back about it, I don't think it was very good at all. I like the setting and the family and the writing, and I particularly liked seeing Alice come back to life. However, there were too many elements that could have been a lot better.

The romance was very meh, and that's a problem when the book is supposed to be a romance novel. I never warmed up to Bodine or to Callen. They felt a bit shallow, possibly because neither of them experienced any sort of growth during the book, beyond Callen sort of coming to terms with his mother's love for his gambling-addict father (not that this seems to affect him much at all now). Both Bo and Cal are perfectly fine from the start, two happy people who simply become happier by getting together. That's a great thing to aspire to, but I'm afraid it didn't make for a particularly interesting romance, as there was absolutely no conflict between them. There's no reason why they wouldn't be together, and mostly (other than a couple of scenes where they sort of fight after one or the other flies off the handle for no reason at all, other than plot) they just start dating and it works perfectly fine. There was nothing objectionable there, but nothing that drew me in, either.

I also had some issues with the Alice storyline. I did love it once she came home, but in the first sections there are a lot of scenes showing her in captivity. Those scenes really were harrowing, particularly the ones early on, when Alice's mind is still not beaten down by the abuse. To be honest, they felt unnecessarily graphic to me, and they didn't really go well with the rest of the book.

And then there was the suspense subplot. Exactly the same thing happened to me in the previous romantic suspense release by this author, in that as soon as I met a particular character, long before they'd done anything remotely suspicious, I knew pretty much everything. I'm not sure if it's that it was really telegraphed, or that I'm a bit too familiar with Nora Robert's oeuvre, but there was zero suspense for me. I was picking up every clue, and therefore the moment when the person's identity was revealed, which was clearly written to be a shock to the reader, was flat as a pancake.

I really don't know what's going on with Roberts. Lately her trilogies have gone terrible, her standalone romantic suspense books are hit or miss, but the In Death books are still fantastic. Weird.

MY GRADE: I'd give it a B-, and I'm being pretty generous here.


jmc 11 June 2017 at 15:06  

This was a library book for me; I think my library system must have bought a lot of copies or I put it on hold early, because it was ready for pick up on release date. Anyway, I felt about it very much the same way you did. It reminded me a lot of Montana Sky, and not just because of the setting. The romance was pretty ~meh; I just didn't care about Bodine or her romance, and I didn't really care about Cal, either. The whole book felt like too much was crammed in and all of it suffered for lack attention.

Another thing that I noticed and was really irritated by was the dismissal of urban residents and relocated urban residents to rural areas. Roberts does this pretty consistently, now that I think about it, painting rural life as idyllic and better than urban. In some ways, I get it, because there is a very real divide in the US between the two. But as someone who grew up in a rural area and now chooses to live in a city, it's frustrating and kind of ugly. And this is definitely just me, but I found the biological family and resort/ranch family atmosphere claustrophobic.

Rosario 11 June 2017 at 17:08  

Yes, definitely reminiscent of Montana Sky in several ways, although I do remember liking that one a lot more than I did this.

On the romance front, I think I would actually have preferred to have Chase and Jessica as the main characters, although the other point you make, about praising rural life over urban, would probably have bothered me even more if they had been the protagonists. Still, they were a bit more interesting as a couple.

But related to the urban/rural thing, the book felt a bit "traditional" in a way that was weird for Nora. It was like she was making a point of having all these women who were powerful and liberated, but then all these other old-fashioned and rather ugly attitudes kept filtering through. The vigilante way Cal went after the deputy himself to beat him up, rather than leave the justice system to do its thing (which it was doing rather efficiently), which was portrayed as the right thing morally. The way the sheriff came to the ranch and gave updates to the men when he had news about the guy that had taken Alice, completely ignoring the women who were actually blood relations to her and had much more of a right to know. It felt very unlike Nora.

meljean brook 16 June 2017 at 18:54  

Oh, I was really waffling on this one. I am hit and miss with her single title romances, usually because the romance feels tepid in the way you describe: her characters are so well rounded and complete, some of the tension is missing (because they'd be just fine if the other person left, which is -- in real life -- great, but not so great when building a romance plot.) So usually I rely on the suspense aspect to pull me through and if this one is leaving glaring red arrows, maybe I'll just wait until it's in paperback.

Now I'm torn on the whole issue of mature and settled characters, lol. Because I love that they are there (as opposed to the dark brooding hero who needs the innocent heroine to make him human and have a heart again) but at times it does make the romance feel frictionless and too easy (and not super compelling.) But when the other aspects of the plot are more compelling, I guess that isn't as noticeable.

Rosario 18 June 2017 at 08:07  

Meljean: Yeah, it's been quite a while that I've stopped reading Roberts' single titles for the romance. I'm there for the suspense (which was not great here) and also for the other relationships, both the family stuff and the way she does friendship. The latter elements were really well-done here (which I probably should have mentioned in my review!), and that was what kept me enjoying the book as I was reading it.

On the mature and settled characters issue, I guess if you have them, you have to come up with a really compelling external issue, either one that makes it difficult for them to get together, or one that they have to work together to overcome?

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