Born In Fire
Born In Ice
Born In Shame
Captive Star
Daring To Dream
Enchanted
Finding the Dream
From The Heart
Hidden Star
Holding the Dream
Homeport
Inner Harbor
Jewels of the Sun
The MacGregor Brides
The MacGregor Grooms
The MacGregors Alan~Grant
Megan's Mate
Montana Sky
Once Upon a Castle
The Perfect Neighbor
The Reef
Rising Tides
River's End
Sanctuary
Seaswept
Secret Star
True Betrayals
Waiting for Nick
The Winning Hand

As J. D. Robb

Ceremony in Death
Conspiracy in Death
Holiday in Death
Immortal In Death
Loyalty in Death
Rapture in Death
Silent Night
Vengeance in Death
Witness in Death

 
Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts
(Putnam, $24.95, R) ISBN 0-399-14392-3
****
Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again: I am in absolute awe of Nora Robertsí talent. I am likewise in awe of her industry. How any writer can be so prolific and yet sustain the high quality of writing that she does is a mystery to me. Moreover, unlike some successful writers, when I read a Robertsí book, I donít feel that I am revisiting an old familiar formula. Well, except for her penchant for serial killers, that is.

In Carolina Moon, the author revisits the rural south and introduces us to Progress, South Carolina. Eighteen years earlier, Hope Lavelle, the eight-year-old daughter of the townís first family, had been murdered. Hope had snuck out of her house to meet her best friend Tory Bodeen at their secret place. But Tory had been unable to come and instead, Hope had met her death. Tory, possessed of psychic abilities, had experienced her friendís death and taken her grieving father and brother to her body. Shortly thereafter, the Bodeens had left Progress. Now, Tory is returning, hoping to put to rest Hopeís spirit.

Tory had failed to meet her friend because she had been brutally beaten by her father, one of many beatings that Hannibal Bodeen gave his daughter. She had fled her parentsí home at eighteen and after an unhappy experience in New York, had returned to the south. Scrimping and saving had given her the money to open her own boutique in Progress. She needs to return for her own peace of mind.

One of the first people she meets is Cade Lavelle, Hopeís older brother. There is an immediate attraction between the two, but Tory is wary of relationships. She has been badly hurt. Cade does not rush the relationship; he is a patient man who knows what he wants and he wants Tory.

Toryís return to Progress stirs up old memories and old fears, because, to quote the dust jacket, ďHopeís murderer is nearby.Ē

This very brief description of the plot of Carolina Moon does not begin to capture the richness of the book. What Nora Roberts does so incredibly well is to create character after character, all of whom she brings to life with incredible skill. There is Hopeís twin sister Faith, who has never truly recovered from her sisterís death or from her parentsí response to the tragedy. There is Cadeís best friend, Wade, who has loved Faith for years, but watched her flit from man to man is search of something missing from her life. There is Cadeís other good friend, the mayor, Dwight, and his flighty, gabby, gossipy wife. There is Cadeís cold and disapproving mother. There are Toryís parents and grandmother and uncle and aunt and....

Well, I could go on and on, but the fact is that Robertsí brings all of these people to life on the pages of her book, so that we come to know and understand them.

Of course, the characters we come to know best are Tory and Cade. Tory is a woman who has succeeded in rising above her brutal childhood and has learned to live with her unwanted gift. But she is not some unbelievable superwoman. She is a woman with perfectly comprehensible fears and doubts, a woman of strength and a woman with weaknesses. She is, like all of Robertsí creations, a fully realized person. This is very much Toryís book.

Which brings me to the one slightly unsatisfying aspect of Carolina Moon -- the hero. Donít get me wrong. Iíd be absolutely delighted if my daughter brought Cade Lavelle home. Heís a simply wonderful guy. Heís rich; heís handsome. Heís a good brother, a dutiful son, a loyal friend, an upright citizen, and a great lover. Whatís more, he practices environmentally friendly agricultural techniques on his familyís cotton plantation. I guess if I were to compare him to other Robertsí heroes, he would come closest to one of my very favorites, Tucker Longstreet, of Robertsí other southern set romantic suspense novel, Carnal Innocence. But he simply isnít as interesting a character as Tucker or most of Robertsí other heroes. Which is not to say that I donít understand why Tory falls in love with him; heís perfect for her. He just doesnít have that special something that I expect of Robertsí heroes.

One other indication of Robertsí preeminent position in the world of romantic suspense is her ability to keep the reader guessing. In short, she manages to create the requisite atmosphere of impending danger and keep us wondering about who the villain is. Yet when we find out, we say, ďWell, yes. that makes sense.Ē

Roberts has another winner with Carolina Moon. But why should this surprise anyone? She is purely and simply the best when it comes to writing contemporary romances today and probably ever. Nobody does it better.

--Jean Mason


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