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SET IN THE WILDS OF WESTERN MONTANA, COME SUNDOWN, like many of the best novels by Nora Roberts, focuses on family – blood or otherwise – spiced up with just enough murder, madness and, of course, romance to sustain our interest.

At the heart of the story lies the relationship between protagonists Bodine Longbow, manager of her family’s rural resort, and Callen Skinner, her brother’s best friend and Bodine’s longtime crush. Callen’s return home from Hollywood, where he was training horses, coincides with the discovery of the body of a young woman on Longbow land. Throw in a local deputy sheriff with both anger issues and an almost obsessive hatred of Callen and it’s hardly surprising that he quickly becomes a Person of Interest.

Alongside this runs the story of Alice, Bodine’s seemingly flighty aunt who disappeared twenty-five years before without a trace. Everyone has a theory about what happened to Alice and most believe her long dead. But when Alice is found abused and beaten on a country road, the Bodines/Longbows have to face the reality that all is not well in their paradise.

Many of Roberts’ novels feature brutal and unpleasant crimes, particularly those written under the pen name of J. D. Robb, and they often tap into every woman’s worst fear. What makes Come Sundown particularly resonate is that it’s played out against the beauty and peace of the Montana landscape. Roberts carefully constructs the Bodine/Longbow dynasty, showing us their strong family bond, their sense of loyalty and justice towards those they love most and their enduring relationship with the land, before introducing Alice into the mix. In fact, while we, the reader, watch Alice’s tragic story unfold, Alice herself doesn’t re-enter the Longbow reality until more than 200 pages into the book. Suddenly everything is but what is not and, with Alice found, the family is almost paralysed by the guilt, anger and shock they feel at the brutality that Alice suffered while they just carried on with their lives.

For anyone familiar with Emma Donoghue’s stunning novel/screenplay Room or the BBC’s excellent series Thirteen, the idea of a girl being held in captivity undetected for years is not unfamiliar. In both these fictional cases, the captive returns to a broken home: nothing is what it was when she was abducted; everything pretty much has changed. What’s unnerving about Come Sundown is that everything in Alice’s world appears pretty much the same as when she left it: she walks back into a world that, on the surface at least, hasn’t really changed. Alice, however, has been broken down and built back up into what ‘Sir’ wants her to be, little more than a thing for sex, reproduction and violence. Coming home to her family, she thus struggles to find her identity.

 

Tears flowing, Alice pressed her hands to both sides of her face. “Why, why, why? I don’t understand. Who am I? Who am I? Not the woman in the mirror. No, no, no! The old woman in the mirror, who is the old woman in the mirror? Who am I?”
… “I don’t feel right. I don’t feel right anywhere in me. Can I go back? Just go back?“‘*

 

Alice doesn’t fit in anywhere, but the Bodine/Longbow women come from strong stock, and they pull together to help Alice find her place, to find her identity again, especially Bodine who bonds with Alice.

This is a true family saga – in the proper sense of the term – with fiercely strong women, silent salt-of-earth men and sweeping landscapes, where a man’s best friend is often his horse. And it raises many questions, including: What would you do to protect your family? How far would you go? And where is home?

With Come Sundown, Roberts delivers a book that is not only disquieting, but also quite frankly, in parts, heartbreaking. It’s also one that sees this Wonder Woman of an author on truly sterling form.

 

Come Sundown is published by Piatkus • Hardback • £16.99

 

Also of interest:Meet crime writer John Fairfax‘; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut The Dry – murder and mayhem in small-town Australia‘; ‘An Alaskan epic – Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence‘; ‘The beauty of Sara Taylor’s The Shore’; ‘Homeward Bound – Nora Roberts’ The Liar‘.

 

Acknowledgements: Quoted text from Come Sundown p. 337, copyright © Nora Roberts 2017. Thanks to Clara Diaz, Publicity Manager at Little, Brown for the review copy. This piece has been published as part of the Piatkus blog tour in June 2017.

 

This review is copyright © 2017 by The Literary Shed. All rights are reserved. All opinions expressed are our own. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please provide the necessary credit. Thank you so much. We welcome your feedback.

 

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