by Nora Roberts
Penguin Group New York, NY 2013
Nora Roberts is one of my guilty pleasures. She’s a prolific writer both in the romance genre and also as mystery writer J. D. Robb. I like her writing because she has a strong sense of place. She paints vivid, but not tedious, images of the houses and the towns her characters move through. She also tends to write characters with interesting careers, and whose jobs (or at least job skills) actually play into the story line.
Her recent works seem to be drawing the two genres closer together and Whiskey Beach is no exception. This is a story that opens on a murder. We don’t see the scene (which we would in the mystery genre). Instead we have the poor man, widower of the victim, who after a year is finally ready to start putting his life back together. His career arc, from lawyer to writer, mirrors Robert’s own.
According to her bio, she started work as a legal secretary. Her time in the legal system clearly informs her materials as she writes about lawyers, policemen, and private detectives. She gives most of her characters a moment in the first person, so we get a feel for not only how they come off to the world, but what motivates them. In this novel even her least sympathetic character has strong reasons for behaving as badly as he does.
I will admit to also appreciating the fact that Roberts writes with a “witchy” point of view. She has done works bordering on fantasy where magic is real and dramatic. She’s also done thematically works where magic is a family sense of knowing and a way of worshiping the Earth from where we come. Mostly though, her female characters tend to be a little “new age”, interested in the properties of crystals and herbs, and into funky jewelry. The woman in this story, a part time massage therapist, yoga instructor, house keeper and waitress, is very much in this vein.
Romance novels as a rule are simply escapist fiction. They are perfect for long plane rides and rainy days. Memorial Day weekend was a great excuse to indulge and Whiskey Beach definitely satisfied. The sex scenes are there (they moved the bed!) but I was neither paging through the bad story to get to them or avoiding them entirely to get back to the story. Writing well in this genre is truly a craft and Nora Roberts is a master.