Nora Roberts is one of my Old Familiars, a writer whose work I go back to again and again, especially when I need comfort. And each time I do, her books don’t disappoint: they’re like catching up with old friends.

In Sanctuary, one of Roberts’ older, longer form novels, the author does what she does best, creating a wonderful island world in which good and evil, beauty and ugliness, peace and violence exist side by side. No one is quite as they seem. Everyone has a secret. And through carefully left hooks and clues, we are left to conclude what’s real and what’s not.

The Hathaways are one of the prominent families on Desire island and Sanctuary is their home. But, as with all good Roberts, the family is fractured, haunted by the past, by the sudden and unexplained abandonment of Annabelle Hathaway years before. Everyone assumes she ran away, leaving her husband and three children behind.

When Jo Ellen, famous photographer, returns home after several years away, ill and exhausted, her arrival sparks a chain of events that impacts on everyone around her, especially siblings Brian and Lexy and their somewhat remote father, Sam. Nathan Delaney also returns to the island, renting one of the cottages at Sanctuary, where he spent a very memorable summer as a child with the Hathaways. Like Jo, Nathan is dealing with his own demons, grief and guilt, among them. And then the first woman disappears…

I’m not going to give away any more of the plot, but suffice it to say, this is a very good read, well-plotted, well-paced, with likeable, credible characters and a good dose of romance and suspense thrown in. As always, Roberts does friendship and family well, evoking the nuances, petty jealousies and rivalries of siblings, in particular, with authenticity and humour. And her understanding of evil, the more twisted the better, is second to none.

Gritty, tense and highly readable, really, what’s not to love?

Nora Roberts | Sanctuary | Jove | 1998 | other editions available

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Acknowledgements: Any photos or quotes used in this piece are for promotional use only. Nora Roberts photographed at her Boonsboro B&B in Maryland. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Polaris.

Also of interest:Nora Roberts, Come Sundown‘;  ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut The Dry – murder and mayhem in small-town Australia‘; ‘’Homeward Bound – Nora Roberts’ The Liar‘; ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Rememembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

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