Angels Fall, by Nora Roberts

>> Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I don't think there's any author whose new books I anticipate more than I do Nora Roberts's. I thought I'd lost her back in the late 90s / early 00s, but I've loved all her more recent books. Her latest is Angels Fall.

Reece Gilmore has come a long way to see the stunning view below her. As the sole survivor of a brutal crime back East, she has been on the run, desperately fighting the nightmares and panic attacks that haunt her. Reece settles in Angel's Fist, Wyoming - temporarily, at least-and takes a job at a local diner. And now she's hiked this mountain all by herself. It was glorious, she thought, as she peered through her binoculars at the Snake River churning below.

Then Reece saw the man and woman on the opposite bank. Arguing. Fighting. And suddenly, the man was on top of the woman, his hands around her throat . . .

Enjoying a moment of solitude a bit farther down the trail is a gruff loner named Brody. But by the time Reece reaches him and brings him to the scene, the pair has vanished. When authorities comb the area where she saw the attack, they find nothing.No signs of struggle. No freshly turned earth. Not even a tire track.

And no one in Angel's Fist seems to believe her. After all, she's a newcomer in town, with a reputation for being jumpy and jittery-maybe even a little fragile. Maybe it's time to run again, to move on .

Reece Gilmore knows there's a killer in Angel's Fist, even if Brody, despite his seeming impatience and desire to keep her at arm's length, is the only one willing to believe her. When a series of menacing events makes it clear that someone wants her out of the way, Reece must put her trust in Brody-and herself-to find out if there is a killer in Angel's Fist before it's too late.
I'm not one of those who complain about how books are getting shorter, and how it used to be so much better in the golden older days, when books were routinely 500 pages long. I happen to believe that most of those older stories could have done with some a lot of tightening up, and I enjoy the more focused feel of many newer books. However, nothing can beat a long book when it's written by a talented author, who can handle all that space, and so I loved the bigness and depth of Angels Fall. It's a book that goes pretty slowly, but rather than bore me, this allowed me to wallow in it and enjoy it. An A-.

Reece Gilmore has been travelling around the US since she survived a mass shooting in the restaurant where she worked in Boston. She's pretty much recovered from her physical injuries, but the psychological ones are another matter. She still suffers from panic attacks and there are plenty of things she can't handle.

When her car breaks down in Wyoming, right outside the tiny town of Angels Fist, Reece sees it as a sign she should spend a bit of time there (she's become big on such signs in the past couple of years). She plans to do just what she's done in tens of other places around the country: get a temporary job to make a bit of money and then move on when the urge hits.

But Reece soon realizes that she might finally be recovering and that Angels Fist might not be as temporary for her as all those other places. There's the way the town seems to fit her, and how the job she's got is cooking at the local diner, when she hasn't been able to handle cooking since the shooting. And there's also Brody, a novelist living right outside town, to whom Reece feels attracted.

Then disaster strikes. When out hiking, Reece is witness to a murder. She immediately reports it, but the sheriff can find no traces of it. And then strange things start happening, things that seem to indicate Reece's mind might not be strengthening as much as she thinks it is, and which support the sheriff's theory that she might have been imagining things. After a while, no one believes her. Except Brody, that is.

There is definitely a certain similarity here to Northern Lights, both in the compelling setting and in that both are mainly the story of one of the characters. Just as NL was basically the hero's story, Angels Fall is mainly the story of the heroine's growth. But in both novels, Roberts manages to strike a perfect balance between the growth of her main character, the romance and the suspense.

It works because Reece is such a fascinating character and one of the most corageous I've read in a long time. I loved how Roberts showed that it can be not at all easy to just bounce back from a traumatic event. This is something that often bugs me in romance novels, that regular-Joe (or regular-Jane) characters are so often faced with pretty horrible violence and are just not affected psychologically by this. Actually, they're often not even that affected physically (in some books bullet wounds seem to hurt no more than mosquito bites!), but that's a subject for another day.

Anyway, my point is that I appreciated reading a book which explored the way facing violence, even in this world that seems to have grown so inured to it, can have devastating psychological consequences. And I loved seeing Reece's growth and healing. I have to agree with Brody's assessment that she's not running away, but on a journey and doing exactly what she needs to do in order to recover. Reece is a woman who knows herself, and I liked the way she accepted herself and her foibles and the things she had problems with and dealt with them, indulging them when she knew they wouldn't have adverse consequences, but fighting against them (and winning) when it was necessary.

Brody is also an interesting character. Unlike so many Nora heroes lately, he's no nurturer. How weird is it that I love Nora's nurturer heroes for being so nurturing and I loved Brody anyway for how he was? At first he does come across as callous and does go a bit overboard with the constant sarcasm, but I think this worked for me anyway because it was so exactly what Reece needed at the time. A good clue of this is that Reece herself feels most comfortable with him and with Joanie, the two people who are the least "poor baby" with her. And when the time comes that Reece needs his unwavering support, he gives it, without a question. He's literally the only one who doesn't doubt Reece's sanity (even Reece thinks she's losing his mind and might never have thought she wasn't if Brody hadn't set her straight on some things).

And this tough, callous facade makes the moments of tenderness very affecting. At first sight, it looks as if maybe he isn't THAT attracted to Reece. This is not a hero who sees the heroine and pursues her like crazy. No, you kind of get the feeling at first that he likes her, finds her attractive, but wouldn't really have gone out of his way to pursue her if she hadn't got in his way. But you slowly start realizing that his feelings are much deeper than that, and you realize that at the same time *he* does.

He's not perfect though. At times I wanted to strangle him (Reece and I both, actually), like when he reacted as he did to what he thought was Reece trying to pressure him into marriage, but this only made him more real to me.

The secondary characters, like all the other townspeople, were wonderfully well-drawn. Not one stock character among them. I have to say, though, I didn't really enjoy the secondary romance. That whole "I'm giving him time to sow his wild oats" thing is just not my cup of tea.

The suspense element was a good, too. I actually zeroed in on the culprit from the very beginning, but Roberts had me second-guessing myself all throughout the rest of the book. Still, it's not really very hard to guess who did it; you only need to think who's the only person who could have done the cover up without some very improbably big coincidences and tight times. And there was something about him I didn't like right from the beginning.

Something else I appreciated was that Roberts left the original crime in Boston as it was, and didn't feel the need to tie a neat bow around that particular end. I know many authors would have been tempted to try to link it somehow to the current action, or to have Reece somehow remember a key detail that helped finally solve it, but that isn't the case, and I thought it was the right choice.

Like all her good books, this one had me wanting to read more Roberts. Fortunately, Morrigan's Cross is coming out in a week! Will I be able to hold off until all three books in that trilogy come out, so that I can read them together? I don't know -and I wouldn't bet on it! ;-)


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