Reviewed by Ian Lipke
If ever a writer had a fertile and creative mind that writer would have to be Nora Roberts.
Since as recent as 2014 this writer has investigated scenarios of considerable difference. In 2014 she entertained us with a house-sitter who enjoys looking after the homes of the glamorous while their owners are away enjoying a holiday. The house-sitter enjoys watching the world pass by, until she witnesses a murder. The year 2015 brought us the story of a wife whose husband is ostensibly killed in a freak accident. He leaves enormous debts, for which she becomes responsible. But, even in death, is she safe from him? In 2016 came a thriller of love, hope and betrayal. As a child the heroine’s family was torn apart by a shocking, but very contemporary, crime. She is left to make something of her life. 2017 heralds the publication of a passionate new novel of suspense whose setting is a resort and whose plot is dependent on the interaction of characters. 2018 witnesses a massacre in a shopping mall from which the heroine survived hobbled by grief and self-guilt. 2019 tells the story of evil that hides behind an innocent façade.
Hey, what happened to 2018 and years subsequent to 2019?
It’s not as though Nora Roberts took time off. Those years saw the publication of two fantasy-style trilogies. Volume 3, the third book in the second trilogy, has not yet been released. As well as regular human interest stories, Roberts publishes under the J.D. Robb label. These, which are located in the years around 2060 and feature tough Lieutenant Eve Dallas, have appeared with startling regularity since at least 2012.
Roberts’ latest stand-alone novel is called Nightwork. Roberts take a calculated risk with this novel as, until now, her leads have been law-following and pure. Thoughts of breaking the law had never occurred to them. In her latest book we meet Harry, a nine-year-old boy whose mother is stricken with cancer. The family needed food, and mortgage payments had to be met, so Harry becomes a thief. When his mother finally succumbs to cancer, Harry leaves Chicago but continues to prosper with his thieving ways.
But then Harry meets Miranda. He attempts to shed his rootless habits in order to become worthy of her. Unfortunately, gangster Carter LaPorte has need of a thief with particular skills and Harry has to disappear. He finds he cannot escape the octopus-like tentacles of the master criminal. With the assistance of Miranda, who has re-entered his life, Harry finally eludes LaPorte’s grasp.
This is a fine story if what you need is a story that works at a superficial level. The settings, characters, tone, and story development are vintage Roberts. The events unfold in a logical ordered fashion, and one can finish the book with a satisfied heave of, “Done it again, Nora!” Except she hasn’t.
When Harry was asked, under duress, to commit a crime for the major criminal, his only response was to up stakes, abandon his lover in a most cruel way, and set himself under a new name in another part of the country. He makes friends easily, travels, and opts for a student role at the University of North Carolina. He adopts a teaching role at one of the schools, virtually blitzing the school principal on first meeting her. Everything is too easy for him. Even Miranda, abandoned for all those years, finds a place for him in her bed.
But…when LaPorte enters the story again, Harry has no thought of running. He comes up with a scheme that settles the gangster in a nice warm cell and Harry and Miranda live happily ever after. I must ask why it took him a decade of running in the first instance if the criminal could be defeated so easily at the second? Why the cruel treatment of Miranda through abandonment without explanation?
In other words, the plot was not thought through with the usual thoroughness of Nora Roberts. Most readers will not be bothered by such trivialities and will champion what is, once again, a story of outstanding merit.
By Nora Roberts
$32.99; 444 pp