Come Sundown is an equine-proximate romantic drama by Nora Roberts, who produces several novels a year (including the J D Robb futuristic crime series) despite apparently being only one person. Romance is her bread and butter, and this edition of the patented Roberts formula brings together Bodine Longbow and Callen Skinner on the Longbow family’s resort and ranch in picturesque western Montana.
The two grew up together but haven’t seen each other since Callen took off for Hollywood, where he wrangled horses on big-budget film sets. Bodine stayed behind to run the family business and cultivate the sensuous but capable womanhood about which Callen, on his return, will emit vocal appreciation, to the extent of telling Bodine’s older brother, Chase, about his designs on Bodine.
A parallel love story involving Chase and a ranch employee, Jessica, serves no evident purpose other than distracting Chase from awkward talk about his sister’s sex life. (When he proposes marriage, Jessica tells him the simple act of accepting “fills up the little spaces in me I didn’t know needed to be filled.” Yes, we’re deep in Nicholas Sparks territory, but to be fair, it’s land Roberts probably cleared herself in the first place.)
Talk, in general, is something Roberts delivers by the shovel-full. By my reckoning, at least half of Come Sundown’s 470 pages is dialogue, much of it possessing the flavour of a cowboy B-movie. I’ve been to Montana and this isn’t how I remember people talking; I would have been only too happy to overhear something like this exchange between Bodine and Callen, as he explains his return:
“I’m done lighting out, needing to. This is my land. It’s not about the owning of it, but waking up in the morning knowing you’re where you want to be, having good work to do and good people around you.”
His words struck a chord with her. “You lost most of the broody.”
“A good part of the pissed off, too, seeing as they went pretty much hand in hand. Now, about that date.”
Montana, of course, is where the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, was living in a remote cabin when he was arrested by the FBI for a series of domestic terrorist attacks on universities and airlines. The villain in Come Sundown, who in a 1991 prologue (the main story is set in the present) abducted Bodine’s maternal aunt, Alice, subsequently holding her captive and forcing her to bear his children, also lives off the grid and maintains an intellectually unsound but hysterically fervent anti-government, sovereign citizen ideology.
A year ago, this would have read as pathetic and even a little funny, but in 2017, there are few duller creatures than defenders of the patriarchy who believe that women are entitled to no dominion over their bodies or lives, and who will apply any means to enforce their agenda. In any case, Nora Roberts never met a happy ending she didn’t like, and however her representation of long-term indoctrination and its undoing might sit with a reader who is versed in human psychology, there is satisfaction in watching every single character, right down to Callen’s horse, Sundown, get everything they deserve.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones