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The Search, by Nora Roberts

Reader beware: I am a fan of Ms Roberts’ writing, and very rarely do I feel disappointed by it. The Search was definitely not one of those rare books. In fact, it was quite the opposite: an engrossing read with interesting characters, great dialogue, and solid writing.

Here is the hardcover jacket blurb:

Number-one New York Times-bestselling author Nora Roberts presents a novel set in the Pacific Northwest, where an island provides sanctuary, the lush forests seduce the unwary, and a man and a woman find in each other the strength to carry on.

To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life—a quaint house on an island off Seattle’s coast, a thriving dog-training school, and a challenging volunteer job performing canine search and rescue. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare.

Several years ago, she was the only survivor of a serial killer—a madman who stalked and abducted young women, strangled them, and left them buried with a red scarf on their bodies. As authorities were closing in on the Red Scarf Killer, he shot and killed Fiona’s cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.

On Orcas Island, Fiona has found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. Yet all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He’s the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy, foisted upon him by his mother. Jaws has eaten through Simon’s house, and he’s at his wit’s end.

To Fiona, Jaws is nothing she can’t handle. Simon is another matter. A newcomer to Orcas, he’s a rugged and intensely private artist, known for creating exquisite furniture. Simon never wanted a puppy, and he most definitely doesn’t want a woman. Besides, the lanky redhead is not his type. But tell that to the laws of attraction.

As Fiona embarks on training Jaws and as Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona’s life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the women who slipped out of his hands…

By choice I have read very few in the way of actual reviews of this novel. Generally speaking, when one is spoiler-phobic, it’s wiser to avoid most chatter on books one is planning on reading. However, it is difficult to avoid all mentions of highly anticipated novels—which happens to be the case with most of Ms Roberts’ releases.

What I have gathered from scattered comments here and there is that some readers are disappointed in this book, mainly on two fronts:

a) they skipped the suspense thread and feel that getting into the mind of the killer has been done (by Ms Roberts) for years and years (first digression: if you don’t care for a novel with a serial killer, why read it? It’s right there in the blurb—twice).

b) They are tired of the protagonists having a sexual relationship before deciding they want to marry each other (second digression: you mean, like most people around you, from teenagers on? gosh!)

Me, I like suspense, I enjoy mysteries, and I’m one of those crazy people who buys non-fiction books such as John Douglas’ Mind Hunter and Tom Cullen’s Autumn of Terror: Jack the Ripper, his times and crimes. This doesn’t mean, at all, that I’m bloodthirsty (really, I’m not—horror and slasher fiction do nothing for me) and excessive gore bores me. It is the solving of the mystery that I find absorbing—following clues, finding the treasure, unmasking and/or capturing the killer, saving the world.

I also like getting into the minds of the characters—all characters, killers or otherwise. I know that I’ve complained often when the villain (be it a foe in love, the bitchy ex- or the grasping mama, etc.) is such a murky figure as to be two-dimensional, a caricature. S/he’s evil, s/he does evil things, the reader is supposed to hate her/him.

Yes… but…

Why does s/he do what s/he does? If I don’t know why—and if I can’t believe the whys—the character becomes a flat plot device: it exists solely to shove the protagonists together in lieu of solid internal conflict.

In The Search, Ms Roberts takes the reader into the minds of two killers—one from his own point of view and the other through the eyes of other characters. Whatever research she has done regarding serial killers, profiling, and the rest of it, pays off: both of them are eminently believable to me, from their thought processes to their behaviours.

Speaking of research, let’s talk a bit about the dog training and the Canine Search and Rescue threads. One word: fantastic. I’m a dog owner myself—a yellow Lab *waving to Homer and Pancho from the photograph on the back of the hardcover jacket*—and I laughed and laughed like a loon at Simon’s difficulties***. I also smirked a bit at the spoiled brat Chloe—yes, I know at least one dog just like her, sans rhinestone collar though—and the crusty retired cop’s “I don’t mean to complain” (don’t we all have at least one neighbor or coworker who resembles that one?).

I particularly enjoy the way Ms Roberts depicts the relationships between her characters. In the case of romances, the reader is treated to all the steps, from attraction to interaction to relationship, all those little steps. Meshing two lives, two personalities—even in friendship there are traps and obstacles, boundaries that need to be marked; with a romantic relationship, there is more at risk for both parties.

But Ms Roberts’ true talent is that she doesn’t keep her protagonists isolated in a sea of interchangeable secondary characters, whose only raison d’être is to populate the novel—not by a long shot. Each one of those characters is real and breathes on the page, even those who only appear for a short scene, perhaps just a paragraph (like the aforementioned retired cop, for example).

Deft characterization: that is the main reason I read Ms Roberts’ work, and I confess myself completely satisfied on that count by The Search.

Add the dogs and I’m a goner.

The Search gets a 9 out of 10.

*** My Lab could have been named Jaws—the wonder is she survived all she ate, as it includes an electric plug and about four feet of cable from my CrockPot, as well as about a square foot of linoleum from the kitchen floor and about the same area of living room rug, among other, more mundane things: chair legs, jacket zippers, socks, kitchen towels, wooden windowsills…

7 Comments »


  • Leslee
    July 24
    11:20 am

    Awesome review! I totally agree, Ms. Roberts is the ultimate! I just finished The Search. Somehow I missed Black Hills so I will be going for that next!

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  • I liked this book too; I much prefer Nora’s stand alone novels to her trilogies. Well, with the exception of the Chesapeake Bay ones. Oh, and the McCade brothers. And … hmmm, seems I do like a few or more. :-)

    I also saw some complaints about the amount of dog training in the book. I like to learn new things painlessly; that’s one reason I love Dick Francis so. He and Nora are alike in this – good, solid writing, characters you care for, and descriptions of new ways to earn a living that make you want to rush right out and give it a try.

    I loaned my copy of Search to my friend Lori, I hope she likes it as much as I did. Your review is spot on. Now I have to go hunt up the McCades, I feel a reread coming on.

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  • I don’t read her trilogies so much anymore but I still adore the In Death books (and now have a number of coworkers hooked too!) and I still enjoy her single titles. This is one I really enjoyed (and I’m spreading the Nora love at work too and lent my copy of this one to a coworker)

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  • Randi
    July 26
    2:14 pm

    Azteclady:

    How would you rank The Search with Tribute and Black Hills? I’m curious because I liked Tribute but Black Hills was a bust for me, AND, I haven’t been hot on the Vision In White series.

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  • Randi, I’m afraid I won’t be of any use to you, because I liked both Tribute and Black Hills quite a bit (reviews here and hererespectively).

    Of course, it depends on what about Black Hills didn’t resonate with you and what about Tribute did–if you tell me more, perhaps I’d be able to help… (or at least offer a more informed opinion)

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  • Randi
    July 28
    6:36 pm

    Well,

    It’s hard to describe, but I’ll see what I can do.

    The prose for Tribute and Black Hills (and the Vision in White series) was phenomenal, no complaints there. I think Nora is a very mature storyteller at this point. What I’ve been having problems with, most recently, is a sort of…disconnect (?) with the characters. It’s as though, they’ve all been to therapy and know exactly what their issues are and how to resolve them. So much so, that there’s no…conflict (?). I don’t think “conflict” is quite the right word, but it’s close. The characters are bland. Because they’re so emotionally healthy, I find that I don’t really care about them. Thus, the emotional distance.

    I’m still not satisfied that I’ve explained myself thoroughly, but I think that’s the best I can do. Tribute was, for me, the beginning of this sort of character maturation, but it wasn’t complete yet, so I was able to enjoy it more than Black Hills or the Vision in White series. But Tribute, still, did not resonate with me like say, the Chesepeake Bay series or Northern Lights.

    Was that at all helpful? Is anyone else having this problem? If so, do you have a better way of putting it?

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  • Thanks for this review. I have long given up on Roberts actually coming up with the one, but I enjoy her just the same!

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