Desert Isle Keeper
I first read a book by Nora Roberts in the summer of 1997. Looking back, it’s hard to believe I’ve been a fan of her work for the past twenty years. Of course, she’s written some things I haven’t enjoyed, but her standalone romantic suspense titles are by and large, all on my keeper shelf. Her latest release, Come Sundown, is one of her very best works to date. It’s a book I want to give to everyone I know. It really is that good.
In the winter of 1992, twenty-one-year-old Alice Bodine, discouraged and down on her luck, is making her way home along a deserted country road. It’s been three years since she last saw her family, and she’s not sure they’ll welcome her back home. Life in Hollywood wasn’t at all what she thought it would be; jobs were practically non-existent, the people were phony, and she’s more than ready to return to her family home in Western Montana. She hitches a ride from a nice-looking, middle-aged man in a pickup truck, unaware of just how much this one action will change her life and the lives of her family members.
The story then jumps forward twenty-five years. The reader is introduced to Bodine Longbow, the manager of her family’s upscale resort, and her parents and brothers who run the accompanying ranch. Bo is smart, loyal, and self-reliant, all traits I love in a heroine. Callen Skinner, her childhood crush, has recently returned from some time spent working in Hollywood and is now an employee of the Bodine resort. Bo’s pretty sure her romantic interest in Cal faded years ago, so she’s more than a little taken aback when she realizes she’s still attracted to him. But Bo’s nothing if not professional, so she pushes her feelings to the back burner as she and Cal are forced into close proximity to one another.
Cal hasn’t had an easy life. His father gambled away his birthright when Cal was a teenager, and committed suicide shortly afterwards. Cal left home after graduating high school, determined to make his own way in the world and prove to himself once and for all he’s not the loser his father was. After experiencing some success in Hollywood, Cal returns home, and is pleased to be offered a position at the Bodine resort. He grew up alongside the Longbow children, and considers them more his family than his own mother and sister. He’s thought of Bo fondly over the years, but he’s pretty shocked to feel a strong, sexual pull toward her.
I loved the easy flirtation between Cal and Bo in the early portions of the book. It’s obvious each cares very deeply for the other, but they’re not fully certain where a relationship might lead them. Still, they love spending time together, both on and off the clock. Cal respects Bo’s authority as his boss and doesn’t try to undermine her, something I really appreciated – I’m pretty tired of overly arrogant heroes who need to prove their superiority to the women they claim to love. It was refreshing to read about a relationship between people who are truly comfortable viewing one another as equals.
Things take a sinister turn when two women are found dead not far from the Bodine property, and it becomes obvious that a serial killer is loose in the Montana countryside. A police deputy with a long-held grudge casts suspicion Cal’s way, but Bo and her family remain steadfastly loyal to him. I really loved the way the characters pull together here, rather than allowing mistrust to get in the way of what they know is right. And then, a link is found to Alice’s disappearance, plunging the family into a web of darkness that will threaten everything they hold dear.
Most of the story takes place in the present, but flashbacks offer some insight into Alice’s plight. Eventually, the two storylines merge, and this is where the novel really starts to shine. Come Sundown contains a darkness and intensity that isn’t present in all of Ms. Roberts’ books. She doesn’t shy away from exploring the darker side of humanity here, and, while some readers might find this off-putting, I loved it. I like my suspense on the gritty side, and Ms. Roberts definitely delivers.
Perhaps this novel’s greatest strength is its characters. Most of them are the kind of people I’d love to hang out with in real life and the author’s depiction of family life is heart-warming and authentic. These are not the kind of people who let silly miscommunications and misunderstandings get in the way of their love for one another. They argue sometimes, as all families do, but the reader never doubts they’ll be there for one another when the going gets rough.
The writing is so lush and atmospheric, I felt like I was right there in the story. Ranches have played prominent roles in a few of Ms. Roberts’ other books, and it seems she must have quite a bit of first-hand experience with ranch life because she always brings them to life beautifully.
I did figure out the identity of the villain pretty early on, but then maybe I’ve read too many mysteries in my time. Fortunately, this didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the story. I was pretty much glued to my iPad until I reached the last page. In fact, I read this nearly 500 page novel in just over twenty-four hours.
A word of caution – if you’re someone who is troubled by graphic violence, you might want to give this a pass though, as we do spend quite a bit of time in the head of a ruthless psychopath. But whether you’re already a fan of Nora Roberts’ writing, or someone picking up one of her books for the first time, I can’t recommend Come Sundown highly enough. The suspense is engrossing, the romance is delightful, and the characterization is superb.