Pros: Excellent story about fascinating people, a tense life-and-death situation, and a beautiful animal sanctuary
Rating: 5 out of 5
It isn’t the speed with which Nora Roberts writes and publishes books that currently amazes me, although it’s certainly impressive. It isn’t even the fact that I find her books consistently enjoyable, although that’s pretty amazing too given how many of them she puts out. It’s the fact that she can explore so many different milieus with such immersive depth that really bowls me over.
In Vision in White, which I reviewed a couple of days ago, I noted that she did a fantastic job of making a wedding planning business come alive, turning it into something much more than just a convenient background for a few books. Now, in Black Hills, she does the same thing with an animal sanctuary and the lands, town, and businesses surrounding it. I’m boggled by the idea of a writer who can do that much research on top of that much writing, and still produce new characters and interesting plots for each book.
Lil and Coop met as children in South Dakota. She lived on her parents’ farm, and he was visiting his grandparents while his own parents tried to repair their failing marriage. Bonding over a shared love of baseball, they developed a close friendship that lasted for years of his sporadic visits, right up until they fell into teenaged love. They tried to maintain that love while Lil followed the studies necessary to pursue her lifelong dream of opening a wildlife sanctuary, and Coop became a cop in New York. Distance and family difficulties, however, tore them apart.
Years later, circumstances conspire to bring them back together. Lil returns from a trip to Peru to find that Coop has returned to South Dakota to care for his injured grandfather. She tries to escape into her work at the wildlife refuge only to find that someone seems to have targeted the refuge—and now her—with acts of destruction and sabotage. Coop might not be a cop any more, but he has a background in both law enforcement and private investigation, and he’s determined to protect her whether she wants him to or not.
Somehow, they and the town that surrounds them must weather the storm that’s coming their way. There are too many people—friends, colleagues, and family—who stand to be hurt when a killer sets his sights on Lil.
As usual for Nora Roberts, the characters definitely come alive. No matter how many of her books I read, each of her characters comes across as a strong, lifelike individual with his or her own personality. This definitely goes for the side characters as well as the main ones. Believe me, you won’t be able to say, “well, that’s the side character that gets some attention, so clearly that’s the one the bad guy will try to threaten in order to get to Lil.” I love that!
While the suspense portions of the book definitely drew me in and contained plenty of tension, this isn’t a pure-suspense book. This book is as much about Lil, Coop, the town of Deadwood, Lil’s wildlife refuge, and all the people involved as it is about the killer hunting Lil. Which, if you aren’t expecting a mile-a-minute thrill ride, is really cool. Nora has a great skill for making communities as well as characters come alive. Deadwood is fascinating to read about—everyone from the sheriff to the woman behind the counter of the jewelry store.
As for the wildlife refuge, much like the wedding planning business in Vision in White it gets enough detail to feel more like a character than a setting. Every detail of day-to-day business is woven into Lil’s routine and the killer’s acts, from dental work on giant felines to finessing donations from tourists and web surfers. When Lil’s business is threatened by the acts of sabotage, you’ll feel Lil’s fear and heartbreak. You’ll have a tough time indeed setting down this book without running to your computer to look for a wildlife refuge to donate to.
On a more writerly level, I appreciated Nora’s approach to the killer behind things. I’ll just say that she doesn’t let her killer take the easy way out in explaining his actions. She keeps things complex, human, and interesting.
All in all, Black Hills is an absolutely wonderful book. I have a hard time defining it as either a “romance” or “suspense”, even though it is both of those things, because neither one dominates the pages. Instead, it’s a book about people—one that just happens to incorporate both romance and suspense.