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Cordina's Crown Jewel
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The Perfect Neighbor
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Remember When
Rising Tides
River's End
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Tears of the Moon
Three Fates
True Betrayals
The Villa
Waiting for Nick
The Winning Hand

Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts
(Putnam & Sons, $25.95, PG-13) ISBN 0399-15306-3
In the same style as Montana Sky, Roberts has nailed this combination of suspense and romance. Blue Smoke is an in-depth look at arson and the effects of arson on people. Families have always been big subjects for Roberts and the Hale family of Baltimore is one to add to the long list. There are a few downsides…the primary one being the love story starts late in the tale…but overall it is another Roberts’ masterpiece.

Catarina (Reena) Hale is the heroine who we first meet when she is eleven and her life is forever changed by a fire in her family’s restaurant, Sirico’s. When they discover that the fire was arson, set by a neighbor who had had an argument with Reena’s father, she decides she wants to be a fire investigator. The argument occurred when the neighbor’s son, Joey Pastorelli, tried to attack Reena and was stopped by her brother, Xander. Reena’s father, Gib, tried to talk to Joey’s father and a fight ensued. Now they have to rebuild their family legacy.

The story follows Reena from 1985 to the present day as she experiences life, goes to college and becomes a policeman, and a certified firefighter. When she gets her detective shield in the arson unit, her dream has come true. But her family despairs because she has not found someone to love. Her sisters Bella and Francesca have found men and their tales are told, too. But Reena is the key character.

Fire is a major player in Reena’s life, with first the loss of the family restaurant, and then a boyfriend in college who dies in a fire. What the reader knows that Reena doesn’t is that there is someone following her and using fire to affect her life. Even though “the who” is easy to guess, the suspense of the tale is heightened by seeing what the killer sees and feels. While he is a villain, his story has depth and we see how he came to be the way he is.

Reena finally meets the love of her life in Bo Goodnight. Bo is a master carpenter whose life and Reena’s are intertwined even though they have never actually met. Bo is sweet, strong and courageous yet fears the risks Reena takes. He supports her in her work even while he worries. Her family likes him immediately, which is enough to make Reena risk her heart with him despite her relationship failures of the past.

The romance is tense, sexual, exciting, exasperating and fun all rolled into one. The two dance around and fall in love even though both are scared of the longevity of the commitment they face. They are an engaging couple as they face danger together.

This is a story with great depth. Beyond the romance and the fires, there is the family and the myriad emergencies and life events that are special to families. There is Reena’s partner and his impact on her life. Her mentor John Minger, the fire inspector from that fire long ago, plays a role in her life and the suspense story. Then there are the fires themselves. Roberts writes about them as if they are alive. Reena is fascinated by fire and her fear and respect for them comes shining through. The life of a firefighter and the dangers faced when working a blaze is captivatingly written.

Blue Smoke is a page-turner. It is taut, engaging and yet tugs at the heartstrings and makes you smile. Roberts has captured just the right balance between the romantic interludes and the suspense filled drama. This is Nora Roberts at her best.

--Shirley Lyons

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