Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Nora Roberts always produces a fine story with a neat balance between romance and suspense. Come Sundown belongs to the same stable but is more exploratory of the darkness of the mind of a psychopath. There is fun and laughter and love and mystery as one has come to expect, but this time, there is hatred and ungovernable rage as well.
Four generations of women have been in control of the Longbow family businesses. The present manager in charge is Bodine Samantha Longbow (I couldn’t resist the name, it is so American). Bodine runs the family’s Montana resort with determination and vigour. She has a great-grandmother, a grandmother, parents and brothers to assist her and, remarkably, they all pull together to follow her lead. Working with her are a number of others who play a significant part in the story, not least of whom is Callen Skinner, recently returned after a stint managing horses in California. Bodine needs a new manager and hires Skinner, despite their mutual attraction to one another.
Deputy Sheriff Garrett Clintock has harboured a grudge against Skinner for many years and is quick to blame Skinner when two women are murdered in the area. Meanwhile Alice, Bodine’s aunt, who had disappeared twenty-five years before, turns up with a story of being held against her will by an individual she identifies only as Sir. The Longbow family pull together to aid the woman’s return to society.
Skinner’s horse is shot and Skinner himself wounded. A worker on the Longbow ranch identifies Clintock as the shooter. Tensions mount and questions are asked but no solutions to the identity of Aunt Alice’s abductor present themselves. Meanwhile romance is blossoming among the Longbow clan and their assisting staff. But the abductor, so it would appear, strikes at the very heart of the family and more lives are put at risk before the resolution to all the mystery is determined.
This is a light romance at one level and a tale of darkness at another. This is probably the first time that Roberts has explored physical and emotional trauma. Balancing evil against family love is a very difficult path to follow but, as the faithful followers of Nora Roberts will tell you, she comes up trumps on every occasion.
Roberts has been writing romance novels for many years and her talents seem to be inexhaustible until now. Come Sundown is a novel of about four hundred and eighty pages in length. It could easily be cut to two thirds that length. Bodine is meant to be a strong character. She is. However, she is argumentative, overly protective of her role, and finds occasion to argue the point over every perceived slight however minor. As an example, when her brother Chase reports on a discussion he had had about appointing Callen Skinner as horse-manager, the following passage appears:
In answer, Bodine put on her sweetest – and scariest – smile. “I’ll explain it then. Abe should have come to me, as I’m being asked to hold two key positions open from November until April. That’s one. He should have come to me to discuss whether I approved taking Callen Skinner as my full-time horse manager from now until April – which is just what you should’ve told him. Then I decide on all that before – if I decide yes – I come to you and Dad and ask if you can let me have Cal for this length of time. Given that’s yes, I ask Callen if he’d agree to that.” (70)
The discussion doesn’t end there. Each member of the family has a say until Bodine, in a rage, storms off into the darkness. The fight was over a trivial breach of etiquette and should have been addressed in a short piece of dialogue. This sort of tortuous discussion occurs frequently through the book.
In similar fashion there occur distressingly long talkfests when someone’s dignity is questioned. Chance remarks generate long passages of explanation. Skinner tosses Bodine aside when Clintock pulls a gun. It was a protective measure but Bodine chastises him roundly for his action. She sees it as a slur on her ability to deal with trouble as easily as any man. When both Chase and Skinner declare their love for Jessica and Bodine respectively, each delivers a long speech that tries the reader’s patience. Of course, Bodine responds in a similar garrulous manner.
There is an over-abundance of strident feminism in the story. This battle was fought in the 1970s and in subsequent decades. I doubt that any reader would hold the view in 2017 that females are lesser citizens than males. From the very beginning we’re hit with “four generations of women” controlling a vast property in Montana, and it doesn’t let up. Give it a rest, Nora.
However, the scenes where Alice is shackled by a chain in a basement of a house are vintage Roberts. They are fresh and vigorous, she a wildcat ready to take skin from him given a chance, he a twisted individual who gives himself authority over her on the basis of a misinterpretation of Scripture.
When she called him a crazy son of a bitch, a fucking coward, he set aside his own bowl of stew. His coiled fist broke her nose before he left her weeping in her own blood.
The first time he raped her she fought like a mad thing. Though he beat and choked the fight out of her, she fought, screamed, begged against every rape, day after day until the days blurred together. (43)
This is Roberts at her best. Sharp and decisive, her prose rings with blood-stirring action, each sentence cut to the bare bones. This is what readers want from a Nora Roberts novel.
Does Nora Roberts deliver? Yes, she certainly does. Though I deplore certain minor aspects I recommend the book as a fine example of escapist literature nevertheless.
By Nora Roberts