Desert Isle Keeper
Even though I am a huge Nora Roberts fan (I’ve managed to collect all but one elusive book from her backlist), there are probably less than 10 books by her I’d grant DIK status. Honest Illusions is one of those ten.
Luke Callahan is on the run when he stumbles across a traveling carnival. Hungry and desperate he uses some of his precious money to get into a magic show, where he’s nearly so enthralled he forgets his purpose, picking pockets. Fortunately, the magician, Max Nouvelle, catches Luke and offers him some food, a place to stay, and work to make up for what he’s done. Wary of the man’s interest in him, Luke agrees to take the deal only when he learns that Max’s paramour Lily, and daughter Roxy will be around. They discuss sending Luke back to his parents until they discover the boy has been brutally beaten. Lily, a mother hen to the core, implores Max to take the boy into their eccentric little family and so he does.
After a long summer of touring the family returns to their base in New Orleans for the winter, and Luke is happy to join them there until he breaks a vase, at which point he fears the worst: he’ll be beaten or sent away. After Max talks to him, Luke is finally convinced to open up and shares his past. He’d gone on the run after having been locked up and beaten so badly he’d passed out; when he came to he wasn’t sure whether he’d been sexually abused by the pervert to whom his stepfather had sold him. Max promises Luke he’s safe and offers him the knowledge so there’ll be no lock that can ever hold him again.
Luke grows up with the Nouvelles and becomes an escape artist in the family act, but even more importantly he joins in the family in their alternate career as thieves. He and Roxy eventually fall in love, but as always, just when things are at their most perfect someone comes along to mess them up. In this case it’s Luke’s stepfather and Sam Wyatt, a man with his own vengeful plan, and unless Luke goes on the run, it’ll really hit the fan for everyone. To protect his adopted family, Luke leaves. Five years later he’s back, but how can he win Roxy’s heart again? Is she willing to let him in, not only to her heart, but on the secret she’s kept from him since the day he left?
As you can tell this is primarily Luke Callahan’s story. He’s a charming hero, who for the most part is pretty positive, but has that dark spot in past. Unsure of what happened during those hours he blacked out as child, he’s constantly haunted by what might have happened and lets it hold him back from grasping happiness. His loyalty to the Nouvelles is complete and he’s very protective of them – Luke will sacrifice anything to keep them safe.
Roxy isn’t as sweet and charming. The slightly spoilt only child of an indulgent father and soft-hearted stepmother, Roxy knows what she wants and she’s determined to get it. At first she’s determined to get her hands on Luke, eventually she has to put her feelings for him aside to protect not only her heart, but also her family. Roxy keeps her secret too long, but she does have every reason to be wary of him. Is he going to stick around this time or just hit and run?
Some readers pause may be bothered by the fact that the Nouvelles and Luke are thieves. They are unapologetic about their sideline and while both Max and Luke’s original predilection for theft grew out of necessity and poverty, their continued enjoyment of the act puts them on shaky moral ground. Yet, somehow Roberts manages to sell these characters as heroic and in the end there is an acceptable resolution to this line of work.
The villain here is actually one of Roberts’ best. He isn’t a psychopath on killing spree, instead he’s a narcissist and a power-hungry spoiled brat. He uses what he knows of Luke and the Nouvelles to get revenge for both real and imagined slights and then uses them in quest for more power. He forces them into a game of wits to see who will come out on top.
Honest Illusions is Roberts at the top of her game. While many may be turned off by some of the story elements and a not-quite realistic portrayal of Alzheimer’s disease, most of the book focuses on love, loyalty, and what makes a family, all ably illustrated in one of the funniest and most touching father/son scenes between Luke and Nathaniel. If you’re looking for a sweet, charming book that tugs at your heartstrings, I can heartedly recommend this one.