High Noon, by Nora Roberts

>> Tuesday, August 21, 2007

TITLE: High Noon
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 480

SETTING: Contemporary Savannah
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Nope, it's one of NR's stand-alones

REASON FOR READING: It's a Nora, baby!

Police Lieutenant Phoebe MacNamara found her calling at an early age when an unstable man broke into her family's home, trapping and terrorizing them for hours. Now she's Savannah's top hostage negotiator, defusing powderkeg situations with a talent for knowing when to give in-and when to jump in and take action. It's satisfying work-and sometimes those skills come in handy at home dealing with her agoraphobic mother, still traumatized by the break-in after all these years, and her precocious seven-year-old, Carly.

It's exactly that heady combination of steely courage and sensitivity that first attracts Duncan Swift to Phoebe. After observing her coax one of his employees down from a roof ledge, he is committed to keeping this intriguing, take-charge woman in his life. She's used to working solo, but Phoebe's discovering that no amount of negotiation can keep Duncan at arm's length.

And when she's grabbed by a man who throws a hood over her head and brutally assaults her-in her own precinct house-Phoebe can't help but be deeply shaken. Then threatening messages show up on her doorstep, and she's not just alarmed but frustrated. How do you go face-to-face with an opponent who refuses to look you in the eye?

Now, with Duncan backing her up every step of the way, she must establish contact with the faceless tormentor who is determined to make her a hostage to fear... before she becomes the final showdown.
THE PLOT: Just the basics here: Phoebe MacNamara is a hostage negotiator with the Savannah police department. She meets Duncan Swift during a routine call, involving persuading one of Duncan's employees to step down from the ledge from which he threatened to jump. The attraction between the two is immediate, and Duncan pursues. Phoebe doesn't try too hard to run away, and they begin a relationship.

But as smooth as her personal life is going, Phoebe's professional life is quite another thing. She's facing harassment from a fellow police officer at her station, a situation which even escalates into a brutal assault on her. Phoebe deals with it by the book, and supposedly, the situation is concluded. But is it? It soon becomes clear that someone is still after Phoebe, someone willing to go to unimaginable lengths to threaten and hurt her.

MY THOUGHTS: Damn, what a meh summary for such a fantastic book! Not time to redo, though, so there it is. Anyway, this is vintage Nora. So what does "vintage Nora" mean? It means an amazing, strong heroine and a yummy hero, both of whom feel real and have a great deal of depth. It means a lovely romance. It means fully drawn and three-dimensional secondary characters. It means a fresh, excellently done suspense subplot. As a whole, it means being able to completely immerse myself into a book and not wanting to come out.

Phoebe was just great. Probably like most long-time NR readers, my first thought when hearing the new book had a cop heroine was of Eve Dallas. Well, rest assured, Phoebe is a completely different person. She's as competent and tough on the job as Eve, yes, but that's only to be expected, as Nora just doesn't do useless ninny heroines (and that's one of the many reasons why I love her). Outside the job, Phoebe is someone who's quite comfortable with the softer side of life. She's the fond mother of a budding beauty queen (and oh, my, Carly was hilarious), both daughter and pillar of strength for her agoraphobic mother and good friend for the almost-relative who also lives with them. It was quite a support network she had at her house, and it was one I thought was beautifully done, where each member gave and received equal measures of love and support.

Phoebe also has a mentor at work... like Feeney, I hear some voices saying. Well, no, if I would compare it to anything, it would be to Reena and Minger in Blue Smoke. There are some similarities there. They meet when Phoebe was a little kid and her whole family had been taken hostage by a former boyfriend of her mother's. David is the hostage negotiator in charge, and Phoebe, who shows some very clear signs of an aptitude for the job, very much admires her. Anyway, the whole thing was excellent... Phoebe and Dave's relationship, her strong vocation for the work and the very life-changing consequences this episode of violence had on the whole family.

Though I thought this was quite clearly Phoebe's book, I loved Duncan as well. He's charming and sweet, and at first sight he looks like this not particularly deep guy who's life is about playing around with his millions, which he got by doing something as non-strenuous as winning the lottery, if you can believe it. But pretty much at the same time as Phoebe, you realize he's a much more complicated man that what he seems, much deeper and serious, but only when the situation warrants it. This is a guy who knows how to play and how to enjoy himself, and his scenes are often filled with humour, especially those with Phoebe's family. His scenes with Carly, especially, were a hoot. Oh, and Duncan has a support network of his own, a whole huge family who've adopted him as a honorary son, and Phoebe fits in very well with them, as well.

As I mentioned in my oh-so-inadequate but pretty-much-accurate summary, there's not a great deal of conflict in the romantic relationship. They meet, they date, they start a relationship, the relationship becomes serious. There's a moment there where Phoebe's protective cop instincts get the better of her and she does a little bit of pushing away, but that's just a blip. And reason # 245 why NR is the Queen of Romance? This very non-conflictive relationship is absorbing as hell and never gets boring. I adored the romance here.

And as for the suspense, I loved it just as much. It was fascinating and well-built and it kept me guessing as long as it was meant to keep me guessing. The timing was superb, and I followed the investigation right at Phoebe's side, never getting ahead of her and never being left behind. I won't say too much, but there were at least two scenes that will stay with me. That tragic cemetery scene and the final scene, where Phoebe made me want to stand up and cheer, she was so incredible.

MY GRADE: An A-. NR doesn't disappoint.


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