Nora Roberts doesn’t need a whole lot of introduction. Chasing Fire, her new contemporary romantic suspense, has what you would expect from her: A solid romance, quirky but well-developed secondary characters, and bizarre names. (Gulliver Curry may give Boween Goodnight of Blue Smoke a run for his money.) But there were also some things lacking.
Rowen (Ro) Tripp is a fire jumper, one of an elite crew of firefighters in Missoula, Montana, that fight forest fires by jumping out of planes. The daughter of the famous “Iron Man” Tripp, she’s been raised around fire jumpers all her life. But she’s shaken when her jump partner, Jim, makes a fatal mistake and is killed.
Now it’s the following fire season, though, and things are stirring up. First is a rookie, the unusually named Gull, with whom she has some serious chemistry. Second is that Dolly, a lover of Jim’s, has returned with an infant she says is Jim’s, and seems set on causing trouble. And third, it quickly becomes clear that someone has it out for the fire jumping crew.
The romance portion of this book is solid. Ro and Gull are great together. They’re both interesting characters, well matched and a bit complicated. The side characters as well were great; the colorful assortment of other jumpers all managed to have distinct and realistic personalities, without overshadowing or being distracting. And there’s a lovely side romance between Ro’s father and a local woman.
There were two things, though, that bothered me: The writing, and the villain. Regarding plot resolution, the person responsible for the vandalism and murders wasn’t a surprise; I had suspected for a while that this person was the killer. But the reasoning, psychology, and opportunity involved fell flat for me. It was definitely a stretch in some respects. Any more specifics would, I think, spoil the mystery, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Nora Roberts has a distinctive writing style, that seems to have concentrated over the years to the point that in this novel, I found it distracting. She really, really hates the word “and.” She never uses it. Instead of saying, “She looked at her gear and the maps,” she writes, “She looked at her gear, the maps.” This is a valid writing technique in some circumstances, and can be used very effectively. (It’s called asyndeton, if you were wondering.) But she overuses it to the point of distraction. She also cuts expressions and proverbs and idioms short — “Still waters,” someone will say. Or “No good deed, and all that.” The result of these idiosyncrasies, though, is that the flow of dialogue or narration is sometimes convoluted.
All of this said — Nora Roberts is still one of the most skilled writers out there, in my opinion. She’s a heck of a lot better than many authors writing. But my concern is that perhaps with her vast experience, two things have happened: her writing quirks have become more concentrated, and her editors have gone lax. Regardless, this is still a very good book — it just isn’t her very greatest.