“ Author: Nora Roberts / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 04 June 2009 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group / Title: The Reef / ISBN 13: 9780749940928 / ISBN 10: 0749940928 / Alternative EAN: 9780749931414 „
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Tate Beaumont has grown up with a passion for the sea and for deep sea treasure hunting in particular, something she's inherited from her father, learning from him as she sailed the Pacific Ocean with her parents. Over those years Tate has assisted her father in making a pretty good living from salvaging treasures which have lain undiscovered beneath the waves for centuries. There is one treasure that has so far eluded them, however, and that is Angelique's Curse, a beautifully wrought amulet studded with jewels but with a dark and sinister history.
One memorable summer just before Tate goes to university, the Beaumonts meet up with Matthew and Buck Lassiter, a nephew and uncle team with a long family tradition of both diving and salvage operations and the two families combine forces to do a little treasure hunting for Angelique's Curse, and along the way Tate begins to fall for Matthew. The treasure hunt goes badly wrong with no sign of the amulet and the prize haul being snatched from their grasp by the wealthy and sinister Silas VanDyke, a man Matthew suspects was responsible for his father's death some years ago, a man furthermore who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. By the end of the summer, the partnership is dissolved with the Lassiters heading for Chicago and the Beaumonts for Carolina and with any chance of romance between Tate and Matthew seemingly over.
Eight years on and Tate has qualified as a marine archaeologist now working on her doctorate. As part of her doctoral research she has joined the crew of the Nomad and is working alongside some of the world's top marine scientists on behalf of SeaSearch, though what Tate doesn't know is that SeaSearch is part of the vast corporation owned by Silas VanDyke.
Tate's father, Ray, has been researching the whereabouts of Angelique's Curse for years and thinks he may at last have discovered where it lies and he contacts Matthew Lassiter asking for his help in a proposed dive for the treasure. Matthew can't resist the lure of the hunt and neither can he resist the opportunity to renew his acquaintance with Tate.
In her time Nora Roberts has written some pretty good suspense novels and this one certainly started off well. In the prologue the reader learns that years before the time this story is set, Silas VanDyke was indeed responsible for the murder of Matthew Lassiter's father so his baddy credentials are immediately established. The rest of the book is divided into three parts: past, present and future. The past deals with how the Lassiters and Beaumonts met and established a friendship which led to their collaboration on a treasure hunt and also laid the groundwork for the relationship between Tate Beaumont and Matthew Lassiter.
This first part has plenty of action, romance and adventure and sets the scene for the present day when everyone has moved on with their lives, some more successfully than others. Inevitably, when Tate and Matthew meet up again, the sparks of their old romance reignite. Although this is essentially a love story, the relationship between the two main protagonists isn't particularly gripping and I found it difficult to feel any kind of empathy with either party. Tate came across as far too much of an American princess and rather too stupid to be the successful marine archaeologist she's purported to be. She certainly doesn't seem to be much of a judge of character either as she can't spot anything bad about Silas VanDyke.
Matthew, on the other hand, just seems to have a massive chip on his shoulder about how he messed up his chances of a relationship with Tate all those years ago and whether he's good enough for her. Again, the author usually writes great male characters (she grew up in a family of brothers so knows the species quite well) but here she just appears to be going through the motions and I found Matthew to be even more unbelievable as a character than Tate. At the time she published this novel, Nora Roberts had recently embarked on her excellent In Death crime series and I feel that possibly her romantic suspense novels were already taking a back seat to that other series, certainly with regard to this book which has all the hallmarks of a pot-boiler.
To be frank, the suspense elements are not always very suspenseful either and more often than not it's possible for the reader to spot what's coming a mile off. As for Silas VanDyke, the master criminal, he's so stereotypical as to be totally unbelievable. It goes without saying that he possesses the stock sociopathic tendencies of your everyday fictional villain to the extent that if the man had had a moustache he'd be twirling it.
One thing Nora Roberts does exceptionally well, however, is set the scene and her descriptions of the Caribbean, hints of buried treasure and the potential for romance are excellent and this coupled with the well developed suspense elements in the first part of the book kept me reading. However, as the story progressed into the present day everything seemed to tail off into what I can only describe as the mundane and mediocre and by the time the final denouement of the plot arrived, I'd reached a stage where I didn't really care much about any of the characters. A couple of days after I'd read this book, I'd forgotten most of the story.
To my mind, this isn't one of Nora Robert's best efforts. When she's on form she can produce writing that's hard to beat. She can write first rate suspense coupled with romances which are believable and populated with characters with whom the reader can engage but in this book, somewhere along the line all these elements failed to gel sufficiently to produce an enthralling read.