Desert Isle Keeper
You can’t tell it by my bookshelves, but once upon a time I was wary of trying new-to-me authors. When I started reading romances back in ’93 there were three authors I read, and that was it: Jude Deveraux, Judith McNaught, and Sandra Brown. Needless to say in three years I’d pretty much worked my way through their backlists. But what finally drove me to try someone one new was desperation for reading material not written in the 19th Century and a limited selection. I was doing my year out in the UK (think non-existent romance section in the bookstore) and the only book I could find by an author I’d heard of was Hidden Riches by Nora Roberts….
Jedidiah Skimmerhorn suffers from burnout. An officer with the Philadelphia police department, Jed’s had a rough few months: a drug lord killed his sister in a car bombing as an act of revenge, and Jed took the man out. Now he’s questioning his ability to make sound decisions, so he’s turned in his badge and gun for life as a civilian. He’s also cutting loose from his past by putting practically everything in storage and moving out of the family home for a small apartment over a South Street antique store. What he hasn’t bargained for is his new landlady, Isadora Conroy.
Dora isn’t sure what to think of her surly new tenant that her father found for her while she was out of town on a buying trip. Sure he’s easy on the eyes, but about as prickly as a cactus. Dora finds herself amused and frustrated as Jed becomes part of her life, doing odd jobs for her, but she comes to appreciate having an ex-cop across the hall when her shop is burglarized. At first it seems like a random interrupted crime until the shop is broken into again and customers who purchased gifts from her start to be burgled as well. Then comes the news that a man she met on her buying trip has been murdered. Is there something more to the goods she picked up at auction? Something someone would kill to have?
The best part of this book is the interaction between Jed and Dora, a case of “opposites attract.” She’s bright and positive; he’s curmudgeonly and negative. Yet, they both have a dry sense of humor and appreciation for those who matter in their lives. It’s from this common ground that their relationship grows.
Dora is the product of an eccentric and warm theatre family. As much as Dora loved the theatre, she loved capitalism and retail more. But she hasn’t wandered far from the fold, and her parents and sister and brother play a significant role her life and the story. Whereas Jed is the only person left in his family, except for his grandmother. Not that his family was close; his parents marriage was the joining of two old family fortunes and was characterized by bitter rivalry. Jed joined the police force mostly to tick them off with a lowly public service career, only to find out he was good at it and enjoyed the work. Yet, his sister’s murder made his question his abilities. Spending time with Dora helps him to put his life in perspective.
The cast is rounded out by Dora’s family and Jed’s former partner and his partner’s wife, who are fully drawn and integral parts of the story. Sadly the same can’t be said about the main villain. A lesser villain is quite interesting, but the person pulling all the strings seems a bit of a caricature. Fortunately it’s such a minor issue it did not hinder my enjoyment of the story at all.
Hidden Riches is one of those rare mixes of suspense and romance where neither gets shortchanged, though the romance mostly seems to take center stage. The mystery aspect is developed slowly throughout and the clues add up. It also is utilized to force Dora and Jed to get a little closer. But the real beauty of this story is the characters and their multi-faceted relationships.
Hidden Riches started my first Nora Roberts glom and I’ve rarely been disappointed since. While there are some Roberts books I love more, this is one I keep coming back to time and time again to enjoy the banter between the leads and the little scenes that make the story stand out in my memory. If you’re one of the few who has yet to try Roberts, this book is definitely a good place to start.