has also reviewed:

Born In Fire
Born In Ice
Born In Shame
Captive Star
Daring To Dream
Finding the Dream
From The Heart
Hidden Star
Holding the Dream
The MacGregor Brides
Megan's Mate
Montana Sky
Once Upon a Castle
Rising Tides
Secret Star
True Betrayals
Waiting for Nick
The Winning Hand

The Reef by Nora Roberts
(Putnam, $23.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-399-14441-2
How does she do it? Book after book, character after character, plot after plot, setting after setting, and still it all seems fresh as a daisy. I am absolutely in awe of Nora Roberts talent. Her newest hardback is, in my humble opinion, her best hardback yet. And when my alarm went off this morning, I really hated Nora Roberts. I'm too old to get by on four hours sleep, but I couldn't put The Reef down last night.

I think that one reason I like The Reef more than some of Robert's other hardcovers is because it concentrates on the relationship between the hero and heroine rather than including multiple romances as in Montana Sky or Sanctuary. I also enjoyed the plot, the setting and the secondary characters. In short, this is vintage Roberts.

The Reef begins with a murder. James Lassiter, a marine treasure hunter, is killed by the man who has hired him, Silas VanDyke, a rich and ruthless businessman. They had quarreled over an artifact both desperately wanted, an amulet reputed to have been cursed by its first owner before she was burned as a witch. Silas is convinced that James is hiding something from him and in a fit of anger, sabotages his diving tanks. James' sixteen year old son Matthew and his brother Buck suspect that the death was no accident, but have no way of proving it.

The scene shifts to the Caribbean, eight years later. Twenty year old Tate Beaumont, her father Ray, and her mother Marla, are pursuing their avocation scuba diving and treasure hunting. Ray believes he has figured out where a richly laden pair of Spanish ships went down in 1743 and hopes to find one or the other of the wrecks. The Beaumonts run into the Lassiters, who are searching for the same ship, and the two groups decide to join forces. The Lassiters have the professional skills; the Beaumonts have the resources.

As the search proceeds, Tate and Matthew are thrown together, and share a growing fascination and affection. Then, the greatest moment for a marine treasure hunter or marine archeologist they discover the wreck of the Santa Marguerite. But as they are removing the treasure, Buck is attacked by a shark. While they rush him to the hospital, another treasure hunter jumps their claim and steals their find. Yep, you guessed it: Silas VanDyke.

With the treasure gone and with an uncle who will need expensive medical care, Matthew breaks it off with Tate as coldly as possible so that she will forget him and get on with her life.

Another eight years pass and we get to the meat of the story. Tate is now a marine archeologist with a growing reputation. She is a member of an expedition funded (although she doesn't know it at first) by Silas VanDyke. Matthew has spend the past eight years working as a salvage diver to make enough money to care for his uncle. And Ray has continued the quest to discover the location of the ship that held the amulet, Angelique's Curse.

Finally, Ray believes he has determined where the ship went down. So he calls on Matthew and Buck and Tate to participate in the treasure hunt of their lives.

Tate and Matthew will now have to come to terms with their feelings about each other. Matthew discovers that his feelings have not changed; Tate is unwilling to admit that she might care about the man who hurt her so badly.

The romance is pure Roberts with her signature combination of warm feelings and hot sex. Tate is an intelligent, brave, and determined heroine who has shut off her emotions as she pursued her intellectual career. Matthew is a hero who hides his deep feelings about his uncle, about the sea, about Tate.

In addition to the romance, we have a tale of greed, murder, revenge and madness. We also have a story about enduring friendship and personal courage in the face of tragedy. And we have a marvelous depiction of the quest for the sea's treasures and of what it must be like to explore the ocean depths. I've never strapped on a scuba tank, but by the time I was finished reading The Reef, I felt as if I had been along for the swim.

My writer friends tear their hair out when they read Roberts. She ignores all the conventions and rules about writing that they struggle to adhere to. But who cares? She creates great characters, tells great stories, and makes the romance come alive. While I still don't know how she does it, I sure am glad she does.

--Jean Mason

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