Shelter in Place, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, June 17, 2018

TITLE: Shelter in Place
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 438
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

It was a typical evening at a mall outside Portland, Maine. Three teenage friends waited for the movie to start. A boy flirted with the girl selling sunglasses. Mothers and children shopped together, and the manager at video game store tended to customers. Then the shooters arrived.

The chaos and carnage lasted only eight minutes before the killers were taken down. But for those who lived through it, the effects would last forever. In the years that followed, one would dedicate himself to a law enforcement career. Another would close herself off, trying to bury the memory of huddling in a ladies' room, helplessly clutching her cell phone--until she finally found a way to pour her emotions into her art.

But one person wasn't satisfied with the shockingly high death toll at the DownEast Mall. And as the survivors slowly heal, find shelter, and rebuild, they will discover that another conspirator is lying in wait--and this time, there might be nowhere safe to hide.
Shelter in Place starts with a truly horrific scene. A packed shopping mall and cinema, full of teenagers and kids and their parents. Three young men armed to the teeth. When they're done, many, many people are dead, including the three gunmen.

Our protagonists were amongst the many people caught up in the shooting. Sixteen-year-old Simone Knox was at the cinema with her two best friends, while Reed Quartermaine was taking a quick break from his job at a restaurant in the mall. After the shooting, they try to rebuild their lives and move on from the tragedy, as do many others.

Except for one person, for whom the shooting was not quite enough. And they are determined to finish the job that, as far as they're concerned, the gunmen botched.

So, this was a bit of a strange one. It started out as something that felt quite different to other Nora Roberts romantic suspense. Not just the subject matter, but the way it felt. Given that the first book in her latest trilogy (Year One, which I hope to review soon) was quite a departure for her, I thought we might be getting another new direction. And, much as I do like the "usual" NR, I got quite excited about that.

But then the book soon returned to familiar patterns. There's the rest of the first half, where we see both Reed and Simone grow up, while the villain does their thing in the background. That felt very reminiscent of books like Blue Smoke, for instance. And then the present-day second half is a bit like Northern Lights, with Reed moving to an isolated small community to become Chief of Police. And there was a lot of time spent with the villain, following along as they killed more and more people, which Nora has done quite a few times (e.g. the first one I thought about, Thankless in Death).

So it turned out to be all pretty familiar. Which is no bad thing, really! I liked the romance quite a bit, with Reed and Simone feeling very well-suited to each other. There's not a hell of a lot of internal tension there, as they seem to click fine from the start and are clearly both on the same page on their relationship throughout, but their low-conflict relationship still managed to keep my attention engaged.

I also liked the family elements, particularly Simone's difficult relationship with her parents and sister and her almost sisterly relationship with her grandma, Cici. Cici was fun, even if, to be honest, in real life she'd probably annoy me as much as she would delight me (the fact that she always smells faintly of weed made me laugh, but euww, I hate that smell!).

The suspense was not awful, but really not great, either. The villain is of the crazy psycho variety, and I just find it hard to work up too much interest in that sort of character. And they seemed unrealistically good at getting away with mayhem. There seemed to be nothing they couldn't do, nobody they couldn't get to. Meh.

I also did wonder why Reed had not tried warning potential victims much, much earlier... years earlier, really, even before he knew who the culprit was. He knew who these people were and they were few enough in number that he could set up an alert to be notified whenever something police-related went down with any of them. So surely he could have contacted them and told them to be on their guard? Yes, it would be hard to be on their guard about everything, all the time, but even when he knew about the culprit, he did not make sure to let the potential victims know either. (Actually, something else that felt a bit off was that the entire country was not completely obsessed by the case when it became clear what was going on.)

Finally, the other thing that felt a bit weird was that there was no mention at all of gun control. It's all down to the shooters and the crazy-psycho villain. That feels quite tone-deaf at the moment. I suppose this will have been written a while ago, but still, that discussion has been going on for quite a long time. I get that wading into the whole gun control issue would likely offend quite a few readers, but at this point, not acknowledging the issue at all with a plot like this doesn't feel like the author being neutral, it feels like taking a particular side (and one which I'm not sure Roberts supports, given her vision of the future in the In Death series).

So, an enjoyable book, but nowhere near prime Nora.

MY GRADE: A B, I guess.


Barb in Maryland 17 June 2018 at 22:41  

I agree, not Prime Nora. But I liked it better than her last few stand-alones, so your grade is about what I gave it.
About the gun control--you're right. It only gets referenced in a sideways manner, when current day shooter's victims include several people who made very public campaigns in favor of tighter controls.

It is so good to see your reviews again. And your new city looks fascinating.

Rosario 26 June 2018 at 06:27  

Exactly! And I agree this was better than the previous couple of books, so maybe she's on the way up again? I can only hope.

And thanks for the welcome back! :)

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