The Search by Nora Roberts
The Search is the latest output of a woman at the height of her considerable powers, the greatest of which must be her ability to just write. By the criteria of commercial success (400 million books in print) and sheer productivity (The Search is one of six books she will publish this year, in addition to the 165-plus she has written since 1979), Nora Roberts is practically matchless. What’s more, while the likes of hyper-prolific James Patterson are abetted by factories of minions, Roberts appears to do it all by herself.
And what does she do? In this case, tells an erudite and compelling story that is surprisingly neat; it is unusual to find a drama-thriller of nearly 500 pages that could not have done with a little fat trimmed, but in the case of The Search, any downtime in the plot, such as a mid-point visit to a spa retreat by the heroine and her girlfriends, is used to add emotional heft, and is the one of the reasons the book succeeds.
This heroine is Fiona Bristow, and the descriptor is accurate in more than a literary sense. Eight years before the start of the book, she was the only one of a dozen women to escape from the clutches of a serial killer nicknamed the Red Scarf Killer. The offender, George Perry, was eventually incarcerated, but not before taking his revenge on Fiona by murdering her policeman fiance.
Fiona has since retreated to Orcas Island, a remote area in the US northwest. At 29, she lives a quiet life, running a canine rescue centre that tracks dogs to train missing persons, and teaching classes to domestic dog owners on the side. She has a close-knit group of friends and a great bond with and passion for animals, but a subterranean wound festers in her inner life, and with two events – the emergence of an apparent RSK copycat killer, and the arrival of an enigmatic, eligible furniture-maker – the wound is suddenly exposed.
Fiona first encounters the bachelor craftsman, Simon Doyle, when he brings his puppy for training. The pair’s initial mutual distrust, followed by will-they-won’t-they tension, adds a frisson to the first half of the book and pays dividends in the second, as the suspense, both emotional and criminal, is ratcheted up. (On a side note, Roberts does the notoriously tricky literary sex scene rather well.)
Roberts expends substantial creative energy on luring us into Fiona’s world, and when a writer has the skill to make her readers care about her invented populace as much as she does, she must have a similar facility with plotting, or it’s all for nought.
Happily, Roberts has this in spades. That there will be some kind of showdown involving Fiona, Perry and the mystery killer seems likely, and what does happen is both unexpected and immensely satisfying. The Search, peopled as it is with slightly eccentric figures, is absorbing not only for its storyline but also the relationships that form and deepen.
Roberts reportedly does much of her research via the internet due to a great aversion to flying; that she may never have been to Washington or spent time with K-9 squads is undetectable. The level of detail and deftness of touch are to be savoured. In Fiona and her creator, two masters are at work.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones