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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

‘Whiskey Beach’ by Nora Roberts

Published by Piatkus,
16th April 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-74995-811-4

I have to confess I usually prefer Nora Roberts’s books when they’re written by J D Robb.
And for people who aren’t in on the loosely-guarded secret, they’re the same person, but two very different styles of crime fiction.

The author also known as Nora Roberts doesn’t, strictly speaking, write crime fiction; the sub-genre is romantic suspense, which means at least half of it is going to be a love story, which is not my favourite genre at all.

Fortunately Nora and J D do have a lot in common – probably more similarities than differences. Both write great sex – and how! Both create vivid, detailed mind-pictures of the places the books are set in – and Nora often sets hers in stunningly beautiful surroundings. And the characters are instantly memorable, and quickly make the reader (this one, anyway) feel she is commingling with old friends.
This last is by far the most important, as for me, fiction is all about the characters. The best plots grow out of the people taking part in them; the more real those people seem, the easier it is to suspend disbelief, enter their world and lose oneself in it.

Which is the main reason I didn’t give up on Whiskey Beach a couple of thousand words in, when the female love interest appeared. By that point there was already a battered body and a suspect who was clearly innocent in the face of damning evidence and an exhaustive police investigation. He was also overdue for recovery from the psychological damage done by the suspicion; and when a beautiful, intelligent, nurturing woman arrived and began to take care of him against his will, the outcome wasn’t in much doubt.

Setting aside the inevitable romance, which unfolded much as you’d expect, there was plenty for the crime fiction addict to enjoy. A city private investigator turned up and reopened the can of worms the protagonist thought he had escaped from. Consequently the protagonist began to emerge from his black cloud and went in search not only of the real murderer, but also of a mysterious intruder who was digging holes in the basement of his ancestral home.

As if that wasn’t enough, doubt was cast on whether an accident which happened some months earlier actually was an accident, or if foul play was involved (guess which turned out to be the case); and the existence of a treasure trove which was thought to be apocryphal suddenly seemed to be a distinct possibility after all.

There was also the local community: warmth and coolness, gossip and squabbles among minor players just as sharply drawn as the main ones, the village Character, the pub and the shop.
Are you keeping up? Fortunately on the page it’s all crystal clear; Roberts takes more than 100,000 words to develop and tie together these disparate threads and play out the romantic element to its natural conclusion. And although with the benefit of slight distance and a day or two’s hindsight I can see it’s all maybe a little too bright and colourful and wishful-thinking, while I was reading I was absorbed and engaged, reluctant to put it down and eager to pick it up again.

I still prefer Roberts’s books when they’re written by J D Robb, as, I think, would most true crime fiction aficionados, but for a few hours of undemanding escapism, you’ll have to go a long way to beat Whiskey Beach.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Nora Roberts was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, the youngest of five children. After a school career that included some time in Catholic school and the discipline of nuns, she married young and settled in Keedysville, Maryland. She worked briefly as a legal secretary. "I could type fast but couldn’t spell, I was the worst legal secretary ever," she says now. After her sons were born she stayed home and tried every craft that came along. A blizzard in February 1979 forced her hand to try another creative outlet. She was snowed in with a three and six year old with no kindergarten respite in sight and a dwindling supply of chocolate.  Born into a family of readers, Nora had never known a time that she wasn’t reading or making up stories. During the now-famous blizzard, she pulled out a pencil and notebook and began to write down one of those stories. It was there that a career was born. Several manuscripts and rejections later, her first book, Irish Thoroughbred, was published by Silhouette in 1981. Nora met her second husband, Bruce Wilder, when she hired him to build bookshelves. They were married in July 1985. Since that time, they’ve expanded their home, travelled the world and opened a bookstore together. She is author of more than 209 romance novels. She writes as J.D. Robb for the "In Death" series, and has also written under the pseudonym Jill March.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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