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‘Oh,’ she brushed tears away. ‘I just killed off a sympathetic character. It had to be done, but I feel really bad about it. I’m going to miss him.’

‘Human or werewolf.’”

–The Collector, page 387

 

 

NoraRobertsphoto625Nora Roberts’ new book The Collector, along with Concealed in Death (the latest JD Robb, her other literary incarnation), find the author back at the top of her game, after what, I feel, have been a couple of rather shaky novels. As I type those words, I hasten to add that Roberts, even a tad off form, is still vastly superior to many novelists writing in the romance, romantic–suspense and crime-fiction genres.

The Collector is a clever book that pays more than a nod to iconic pop culture, in this case to Hitchcock’s brilliant Rear Window (1954) and to the current public adoration of lupine characters. As the book opens, Lila Emerson, writer of young adult Twilight-esque fiction, takes up her next job as a professional housesitter, a position that enables her to live at some of the finest homes in New York (and abroad). In her spare time, from the windows and terraces of these luxury abodes, Lila observes her peers through a pair of binoculars.

Like Jeff, James Stewart’s photographer character in Rear Window, Lila is a natural observer of the human condition. She enjoys people and loves watching her neighbours living their lives, while she makes up stories about them in her head. It’s all largely fun until the day that she witnesses a murder in the block opposite from where she’s staying. Suddenly, Lila finds herself immersed in the real-life affairs of wealthy artist Ashton (‘Ash’) Archer, whose brother is one of the victims. From thereon in, Roberts sweeps us on an epic journey to the truth via Tsarist and revolutionary Russia, the Romanovs, missing Fabergé artifacts, international art trafficking – and so much more.

Along the way, we meet Lila and Ash’s ‘crew’ – their loved ones, blood- and non-blood related, who keep the protagonists both grounded and give them cause for frustration and concern. A personable cat and a teacup poodle give comic relief, while the characters fight (literally) against a host of villains, including a beautiful, amoral assassin with great shoes and a Howard Hughes-esque recluse before they can come to their own personal resolution. At Roberts’ expert hands, it’s an immensely satisfying ride.

In trying to work out why I like this book so much, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s largely about the tone and voice that Roberts uses, both of which are very similar to those employed in the JD Robb books and also in some of my favourite Roberts’ romantic–suspense fiction – Carolina Moon (2000) and Northern Lights (2004), among them. From the very first page, we, the reader, walk into worlds that already exist for the main characters (whether they be the protagonists or the victims themselves), witnessing firsthand their lives before catastrophic events occur to disrupt or destroy them. It’s a clever device because we’re invested right from the beginning in finding out what’s happened – and why.

Like a camera, Roberts then swoops in to focus on the minutiae, guiding us skilfully through the twists and turns of plot and subplot with great finesse, until we, along with the protagonists, reach the conclusion she wants safely. In a Roberts’ romantic–suspense novel, the plots are often complicated by the introduction of supporting characters and/or unexpected events that may, at some points, seem strange or unnecessary. By the time we reach the end pages, however, Roberts has tied up every little strand neatly, making it clear that every person we’ve been introduced to and every avenue we’ve explored has been for a reason. How can we then not be satisfied by a Nora Roberts’ novel?

Roberts is a favourite author of mine. She’s on my ‘pair of safe arms’ authors’ list, those writers to whom I turn in moments of strife, when real life gets too challenging and I need to laugh, escape or simply have the comfort of words or worlds that are familiar and/or beloved. This select literary group has created books that I can return to again and again: it includes writers whose embrace I can willingly walk or fall into, when required. Roberts, along with Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Daphne du Maurier, Jean Rhys and Agatha Christie, top that list.

My eldest sister, Nina, first introduced me to the delights of Roberts. As a student nurse at St Barts Hospital in London, she would bring home bags (literally) of Mills & Boons and Silhouette romances, which I would then secrete away to read under the bedcovers. Later, in my first job as editor of Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, I read every single Nora Roberts’ book written up until that point, in the hallowed surroundings of the domed British Library Reading Room, rather to the bemusement of some of my more academically minded peers who were trying to work exactly what I was doing. More recently, following the unexpected death of my brother, I found myself, at the rare moments when I could draw breath, alternating between old Roberts, Heyer and Christie novels, sinking into their familiar worlds, secure in the knowledge that no matter what the crises or horrors experienced by the protagonists, love or justice (often both) would prevail. When nothing is but what is not, having a safe place that one can escape to – real or imagined – is life saving. That is why writing a positive review of Roberts’ latest book is an absolute pleasure.

While I could bang on about the merits of The Collector – and, indeed, other Roberts’ titles – until the proverbial cow comes home, I won’t – especially as in doing so, I know I’ll inevitably give away even more of plot than I have already.

Instead, I’ll just say this: read The Collector yourself and draw your own conclusion.

You have mine.

 

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The Collector, published April 2014 by Putnam Adult in the UK and US.

 

 

 

 

 

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Concealed in Death (Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb), published February 2014 by Piatkus in the UK and Putnam Adult in the US.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also of interest: ‘Dallas does Christmas, albeit reluctantly – a review of JD Robb’s Festive in Death‘ (September 2014);The not-so-invisible woman – 100 great women in words, from Agatha to Zora’ (Roberts appears in the list); Georgette Heyer’s Frederica by Arthur Barbosa (1965)‘ both in The Literary Lounge

 

Photographs in article: Nora Roberts; The Collector (UK/US edition cover; Putnam Adult, 2014) and Concealed in Death (UK cover, Piatkus, 2014).

Notice: Please note the above images and quotations are intended to be for promotional purposes only. In no way, have we have intentionally breached anyone’s copyright.

This review is ©The Literary Shed, 2014. All opinions expressed are our own. It can only be reproduced with our permission. Please contact us if you wish to do so. We must be fully credited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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