Pros: Wonderful new setting and characters; plenty of plot twists
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
I’m becoming addicted to Nora Roberts’s standalone novels even more than her series books. Black Hills was fantastic, and now she’s written The Search. Once again the setting becomes a character unto itself, and she takes the chance to explore not just a romantic relationship, not just a suspenseful crime plot, but also a community, a way of life, and a career. This time we follow along with Fee, Fiona Bristow, a dog trainer who owns and trains search and rescue dogs. Fee has settled into an idyllic life on an island in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by family, friends, and her loyal dogs. Years ago, however, she survived a nightmare—she was the sole woman to escape a serial killer, and before he was caught he killed her fiancee as revenge.
Things start to get complicated for Fee the moment Simon, a reclusive artist, shows up on her doorstep with Jaws, an energetic and disobedient pup in need of training. Of course to really train Jaws, Fee will need to train Simon, too—and that’s a whole different ballgame! Simon is cranky at best, rude and obnoxious at worst, and he does not like to do what he’s told. Oddly, however, his bluntness and candor, however hurtful, are refreshing to Fee, and she can’t help but feel intrigued. That’s when fate throws them a curve ball, however—although the serial killer who stalked her is still in jail, he seems to have a copycat. And that copycat has made it clear he, too, has his eye on Fee.
I admit, when I first started reading The Search, one of my original thoughts was, “oh, the copycat serial killer who goes after the one woman who got away. That’s kind of an overdone plot, but Nora’s good, so it’ll be a fun read anyway.” After all, I love novels like Black Hills and The Search for their amazing characters and setting, and it’s really the window dressing that makes the book. However, I shouldn’t have assumed she wouldn’t have some aces up her sleeve with regard to the plot! I won’t give anything away, but I will say that she definitely does some interesting things with it that I wasn’t expecting, and by the end of the book she’d made it fresh again for me.
The serial killer plot, however, isn’t the meat of the book: that’s the wonderful setting and characters. Nora accomplishes something I didn’t think she’d be able to: she made me grow to like Simon grudgingly along with Fee. At first I was wondering how on earth she was going to turn him into a romantic lead, because he was annoying, rude, brusque, etc., and too much so. She pulled off a believable change over time, however, in which I slowly got a better idea of what he was really like underneath, and also saw him change in response to the people and events around him, leading me to want the relationship to succeed. I was quite surprised and pleased! Fee, too, is hardly your stereotypical romantic lead. She’s strong, solid, calm, and competent. She doesn’t look like a fashion model; she isn’t high-strung; and she doesn’t spend her time obsessing over fashion or brand names.
I love the window into the world of canine search and rescue, as well as dog training. The search and rescue aspects lend a bit of extra excitement to things, while the dog training is interesting for me since I know little about dogs (and I felt like I learned a few things here). Nora uses both to add flavor and interest to the book, and to provide a beautiful and unique backdrop to events. All in all, a gorgeous, full, complex exploration of a community, a killer, and some fascinating lives.