Wow! In the conclusion of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay trilogy, Nora very nearly hits one out of the park. Those of us wondering how the parentage of Seth Quinn would be resolved will be totally taken by surprise. Those of us who have come to love Seth, Cam, Anna, Ethan, Grace, and Phillip will delight in Phillip’s match with sociologist Sybill. Those of us who have come to love the Quinn family’s bonding will view Sybill as an interloper initially, but as Phillip comes to love her, we will too, although she is far more aloof and difficult to know than Anna or Grace. But Phillip is up to the task. He’s quite the evolved male; sophisticated and worldly to be sure, but surprisingly tender and nurturing as well.
When a pretty stranger happens by the boatworks where the Cameron brothers are working, Phillip can’t help but notice her. He invites her back the following day, which is what she wants – she’s there to spy on the family on behalf of her sister Gloria, who has told her the Cameron family is trying to steal away her beloved son Seth (readers of the earlier books in the series know Gloria is rotten to the core and bears no love for her son, whom she “sold” to Ray Quinn). Although Sybill has had tastes of her sister’s true nature over the years, she agrees to check things out – maybe her sister is being bamboozled by the family.
Sybill lives life as an observer – she has written best-selling works on the conclusions of her field studies and plans to attack this as though it were simply another one. She is wary of emotion and suspicious of how Seth seems to be faring under his “brothers'” care. She can’t help but be charmed by Phillip, however, even if she thinks he’s just a smooth operator.
The vicious Gloria returns to town, however, and Sybill’s identity is revealed to the Quinn family. Sybill sees Gloria for what she truly is, and it is to Phillip’s credit that he allows her to make amends for her surreptitious behavior. It is at this point that Phillip becomes the nurturer, the healer for Sybill. It is at this point that the reader will fall in love with Phillip, even though he is very nearly too good to be true.
Coming to care for Sybill, however, is more difficult. She has built such strong walls around her heart and has so compartmentalized her feelings in little boxes that she is not particularly likable. But she is a good person, and, slowly, Phillip opens the boxes and breaks down the walls, revealing not only a likable but lovable woman.
While Phillip is working his magic on Sybill, she is getting to know Seth, whom she had come to love when Gloria and he camped out at her place years before. Seth, of course, has been to hell and back, as have all the Quinn men, and it has been wonderful to watch him become a regular, albeit bright and artistic, little boy.
The ghost of Raymond Quinn appears to Phillip as he had to Cameron and Ethan in their stories, and his firm yet loving guiding hand is apparent even when he isn’t. The love that he and his wife Stella, who died years earlier, provided to their adopted boys has served them well. Three broken boys are now three proud and loving men, helping along a fourth boy as they were helped.
As in the previous books in this trilogy, “maleness” abounds; Roberts has a wonderful way of sharing male bonding with her women readers. One can practically hear the belching contests in the background, and, imagining the well-turned out Phillip indulging in such activities has me grinning from ear to ear.
My quibbles with Inner Harbor are these: Phillip was a tad too perfect, especially given his past. I’ve had this same complaint with a few of Roberts’ other heroes – they can be too intuitive, too nurturing, too good to be believable. Phillip was thirteen when he was “saved” by the Quinn’s; very nearly a fully formed individual. Cameron and Ethan were more realistic to me than was Phillip – they seemed more “damaged,” befitting their early lives. And Sybill was just too locked up inside for me to warm up to her. Although by the end, when she “proves” herself to herself and the entire Quinn family, I was rooting for her, she simply didn’t engage me as much as I hoped she would.
Assigning a grade to a book is the hardest part for a reviewer and this was a tough one. Sea Swept is a Desert Isle Keeper but Rising Tides, which I gave a B+, wasn’t quite as good. While I enjoyed Inner Harbor more than Rising Tides, I didn’t love it as much as I loved Sea Swept. Overall, however, this is a terrific trilogy – it should be read by romance readers and lovers of great fiction.