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To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life—a quaint house on an island off Seattle’s coast, a thriving dog-training school and a challenging volunteer job performing Canine Search and Rescue. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare.
Several years ago, Fiona was the only survivor of the Red Scarf Killer, who shot and killed Fiona’s cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.
On Orcas Island, Fiona has found the peace and solitude necessary to rebuild her life. But all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He’s an intensely private wood artist and the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy named Jaws.
As Fiona embarks on training Jaws, and Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona’s life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the woman who slipped out of his hands . . .
I knew going in that I was likely to find parts of this book emotionally difficult. Books about serial killers tend to ramp up my anxiety, particularly if they follow the killer’s thoughts at all. On the other hand, I really like Nora Roberts, and I’ve been working my way through her romantic-suspense backlist, so I thought I’d give it a try.
As I thought, the serial-killer aspect was tough for me at times, and there were scenes I skimmed over, or even skipped. On the other hand, I didn’t expect to enjoy the dog training and Search and Rescue scenes as much as I did. Wow, if the dogs I knew in my childhood had been half as well-trained as the dogs Fiona trains, I would be a lot more of a dog person now. I also liked Fiona herself, and her stepmother Sylvia. Fiona is strong in the ways a survivor can be strong, and sometimes fragile in the ways a survivor can be fragile, and Roberts does a good job of conveying not only Fiona’s feelings, but the reasons for them. I admire her, I like her, and I was able to empathize with her most of the time.
Simon, on the other hand, is brusque, solitary, and tends to avoid the softer emotions like the plague. He’s not devoid of them, but he doesn’t want to let them out or pay attention to them. Roberts keeps trying to make him attractive, and to show why Fiona likes him, but I kept comparing him unfavorably to most of the other Roberts heroes I’ve come across, and he isn’t always very likable. The pair of them disagree a lot, and Simon can be pretty dictatorial — but he’s also right enough of the time that I grew to respect his insight into Fiona and what she needed, even if it was usually the opposite of what I would need or prefer, in her position. I will give them this, too: they argue, they get mad, but they talk it out, they don’t hold grudges, and they learn to compromise. All the same, she can have him. He’s very much not my type.
The suspense is, as always, well written, and Roberts is a past master at pacing and ratcheting it up inch by slow inch. The romance never feels very romantic, however, mainly because Simon is not a romantic type. Well, not on the surface, anyway. I’m not sure you can call a man who makes his lover porch chairs, window boxes, and a specially-designed wine cabinet “unromantic”, exactly. But he’s sure not romantic in words. Bluntly honest, but not romantic.
Some of the secondary characters interested me, but we only get a really good sense of a few of them. Sylvia, Fiona’s widowed stepmother, is warm and caring but not smothering, and the affection between them is clear. Her friend Mai, a vet, is charming but leans a little toward the 2-dimensional, as do most of the other secondary characters with the exception of Special Agent Tawney and possibly Davey, a local deputy. That’s not typical of Roberts, and I was disappointed not to get a better sense of some of them, particularly Fiona’s good friend James.
All in all, while the book is solidly written and certainly kept my attention, it doesn’t go on my list of favorite Roberts books. . . which is why I’ve rated it 3.5 rather than 4.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- The Backlist Reader Challenge 2017