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Although an acknowledged fan of romantic fiction, I do prefer it when it has a plausible plot and good characterisation, which mainly precludes anything from publishing houses such as Mills & Boon and Masquerade. Although Nora Roberts may have begun her writing career penning romances for these publishers, her talent was such that she rapidly moved from writing stories dealing entirely with love affairs and the ups and downs of a romance to producing books which although still having a strong romantic element, also included gripping storylines.
Nate Burke arrives in Lunacy, Alaska (population 506) knowing it's his last career chance. He's a burned out cop from Baltimore who is guilt-ridden after watching his partner die and he hopes the chance to be Chief of Police in a tiny Alaskan outpost will offer him the opportunity to heal his battered soul. After all, there's little chance of much happening in a place where everyone knows everyone else and the most dangerous thing he'll need to deal with is probably a moose wandering into town. But when a couple of climbers come upon a dead body up in the mountains, Nat discovers that Lunacy isn't quite the refuge of peace and tranquility he'd hoped it would be.
Nora Roberts is a great storyteller. She has the ability to create characters with whom the reader immediately develops an empathy and places them in situations that are ripe for both romance and murder. As a writer, she can conjure up a picture with very few words and her prologue does just that. It's an extract from a journal written almost twenty years before the story begins. We don't know who writes, only that they're a mountaineer and they're planning to climb No Name, the mountain that towers over the little town of Lunacy, and that he's climbing in the company of like minded people.
After the introductory prologue, we're back in the present day (or December 2004 to be precise) and Nate Burke is arriving in Lunacy to take up his new position as Chief of Police. Nate is a damaged soul, having left behind in Baltimore a dead police partner and an equally dead marriage, however on the flight in, he realises he isn't quite as ready to die himself as he'd thought and he wonders what on earth possessed him to take a ride in a rust bucket of a plane being flown by a man named Jerk! He makes it to the frozen wastes of Lunacy alive though, where he's greeted by the Mayor and he's soon introduced to the somewhat quirky inhabitants of the little town which includes its other pilot, a rather attractive young woman, Meg Galloway. Meg was born and raised in Lunacy and is as different from Nate as it's possible to be but then opposites frequently attract.
Although this novel obviously owes a good deal to the 90s American TV series, Northern Exposure, certainly in terms of its location and the quirkiness of some of its inhabitants, as well as the feisty female pilot, there is also much that is original about the story and Ms Roberts doesn't hang around before she drops the reader right into the middle of this last outpost of humanity before entering the vast wilderness of the Arctic circle. The descriptions of the landscape of Lunacy paint a picture of a starkly beautiful and snow-covered land with the northern lights of the title flickering above the snowy peaks of the mountains.
This is one of those romantic suspense novels where the perfect balance between the romance and suspense elements has been achieved. Nora Roberts is capable of writing great crime and, in fact, also writes futuristic crime novels under the pseudonym of J D Robb, and the build up of suspense here is excellent. The present day narrative is supplemented by extracts from the mountaineer's journal, and it all adds up to a thoroughly satisfying crime story even without the romantic interaction between Nate and Meg. With regards to their romance, this is totally believable and Nora Roberts has produced lead characters who develop a relationship over a period of time rather than falling straight into bed with each other, although they do eventually get there.
What I like about Nora Roberts' love scenes is that she can describe love making in a way that leaves you in no doubt that both participants are enjoying the experience but without going into great anatomical detail or putting any purple prose into the mouths of her hero and heroine. In short, they behave like normal human beings and converse in the same way. Her male lead invariably has a flaw or two as does her female lead, though it has to be said her male characters do tend to be more appealing than her females. This is largely due to the fact that she frequently makes the mistake of writing feisty woman as being a bit foul-mouthed. Though I freely admit to resorting to foul language from time, to time to my mind, strong, independent women don't necessarily have to go round effing and blinding to prove it.
It isn't just the lead characters that make this story so enjoyable, however, as all the secondary characters are equally well rounded. Even if some are a little stereotypical and predictable in their behaviour, their back stories add not only interest but authenticity to their characters. In particular, Meg's mother, Charlene, who is mutton dressed as lamb and something of a cougar, has a reason for behaving the way she does, even if it doesn't make her altogether likeable.
The excellent characterisation, tautly crafted plot and well written romance between Nate and Meg, all make for a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you like well written suspense with a hefty dose of romance, this is definitely worth a read. The descriptions of the scenery are wonderfully atmospheric and go a long way to enhancing the twin stories of love and death. To my mind this is one of Nora Roberts' best romantic suspense novels. It's a 5 star read for me.
Another classic Nora Roberts novel, set in Lunacy, Alaska.
Nate Burke is haunted by past events that occured during his time spent in Baltimore as a cop. In an attempt to start a-fresh, he accepts a job as Chief of Police in a remote town set up near the mountains. But in his efforts to fit into the town's way of life, he begins to doubt whether this was the best solution, when an unexpected relationship ignites between himself and feisty bush pilot Meg Galloway.
However, the plot takes an intriguing turn when some climbers find a corpse on the mountain. Now Nate has to face the fact that no-one can run from their past, as he attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the events which lead up to someone dying on that mountain, and the town is unprepared for the consequences of the investigation.
Whether you read books for the romance, the mystery or the chase, this book is for you. In terms of being defined as a 'thriller', people may find that it lacks the desired pace, and the 'hero' might be a little stereotyped. However, with an original heroine, and unexpected twists, I would rate this as one of Nora Roberts' best novels to date.
In another romantic thriller Nora Roberts introduces the reader to the town of Lunacy, Alaska through the eyes of Nate Burke. Nate's arrival in a town for which newcomers are few and far between provokes a range of responses ranging form curiosity to suspicion. The ex Baltimore cop isn't the obvious choice to fill the vacancy of the remote town's Police Chief. In fact Nate arrives in Lunacy having uprooted his life on a whim, whilst living through a marriage break-up and a blur of depression and guilt for the death of his partner in a shoot out, an incident in which Nate himself was also injured.
Chief Burke is steadily drawn out of depression and into the daily life of this remote little town where the temperatures are routinely below freezing and darkness falls in the early afternoon. In Lunacy the average day involves little more than issuing traffic tickets and refereeing drunken fights between the local troublemakers the 'Mackey brothers'. Nate also finds distraction in the town's attractive pilot Meg Galloway. Meg is fiercely independent, enjoying the isolation of her surroundings a strong, capable character she is typical of a Nora Roberts female lead.
Meg's life has been shaped since childhood by the knowledge that her father Pat Galloway had abandoned her, leaving town with no explanations or goodbyes. Her father leaving was a fundamental event in Meg's life making her a solitary character who chooses to isolate herself, living alone on the outskirts of town. Meg's relationship with her mother is also explored. It is at her mother's feet that Meg has always laid the blame for her fathers leaving. Meg's life is turned upside down when a mountain rescue leads to the discovery of her fathers preserved frozen body in a cave and the knowledge that far from having walked out of her life 18 years before he was in fact murdered.
Through Roberts' descriptions you discover the beauty and wilderness of Alaska and share with Nate his first experience of the magical, awe inspiring Northern Lights. The town of Lunacy and its various inhabitants are as endearing and entertaining as the central characters. Roberts' talent for developing rich characterization and transporting her readers to the amazing settings for her novels makes Northern Lights not only a page turner but one in which the story is truly brought alive.
Living in a town as small as Lunacy Meg has to accept that her father's killer has been living among her close community and is someone that she has trusted and grown up with. As Nate and Meg are forced to question which of the people around them could be capable of murder the investigation prompts a series of events among which the murderer would strike again. The identity of the killer was not made obvious too early in the plot and the mystery thread of the storyline complemented the romance element well. Nate's love for Meg installs in him a personal investment in finding the killer, which acts to bring together the two genres seamlessly. I found that this also helped me as a reader to be simultaneously entertained by both the crime element and warm to the characters developing romance. As the plot develops Nate and Meg help each other deal with the events of their past and make a fresh start.
As a thriller alone I would have expected a little more suspense and plot development from the storyline. However when judged as a romance it strikes a perfect balance as a unique genre and on this basis I would award Northern Lights five stars, highly recommended.
*** Nora Roberts ***
Eleanor Marie Robertson was born in October, 1950 in Silver Spring, Maryland, America. These days better known as Nora Roberts, she is a prolific writer of contemporary romance who has written one hundred and ninty books since her first novel was published in 1981. Roberts' first romantic suspense novel was written in 1995 under the pseudonym J.D. Robb. Under this name she has also enjoyed success for a series of futuristic science fiction featuring police detective Eve Dallas and her love interest Roarke. The 'In Death' series combines the romance writing Roberts' has made a name for and a crime police procedural set in mid 20th century New York. To date as J.D Robb, Roberts has written 36 novels for her In Death series. My personal preference, when it comes to a good Nora Roberts novel is for her standalone romantic thrillers combining suspense with romance.
Her novels have been published around the world and her work has attracted numerous awards and made her a regular name on the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, of her one hundred and ninty novels, one hundred and sixtyfour have made the list. Several of Nora Roberts' books have now been adapted for TV movies including Northern Lights, staring Leann Rimes and Eddie Cibrian.