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The Search
by Nora Roberts
(Putnam, $26.95, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-399-15657-1
Iíve learned a lot over the years by reading Nora Robertsí†novels.† Iíve learned about art verification (Homeport), organic farming (Carolina Moon) archeology (Birthright), hostage negotiation (High Noon), home remodeling (Tribute), animal rescue (Black Hills) and, of course, gardening (assorted titles).† Roberts has an exceptional ability to weave an interesting and often informative backstory into her romance novels.† In The Search, it is dog training and search and rescue.† Actually, I found the stuff about the dogs every bit as fascinating as the romance and the suspense.† I only wish I had read The Search years ago when my dear departed Puck was a puppy.† My life might have been a lot easier but perhaps a lot less exciting.

Like many Robertsí heroines, Fiona Bristow is bright, capable, attractive and self-sufficient.† She lives on Orcas, a lovely island off the coast of Washington and is a dog trainer with a successful business.† She is also the leader of a dog search and rescue team and her three Labs Ė Newman, Bogart and Peck Ė are expert trackers.† We meet Fiona when she and her team are called to find a three year old who has wandered into the forest.† We know that she and Peck will find little Hugh Ė this is, after all, a romance novel - but Roberts creates an aura of suspense as she describes the process of finding the child and shows how strong and able her heroine is.

Like many Robertsí heroes, Simon Doyle is tough, taciturn, talented and uninterested (he thinks) in a romantic relationship.† A well-known wood artist, he has moved to Orcas for the peace and inspiration of the forest and water.† But his devoted mother decided he would be lonely and gave him a puppy.† Thus ended Simonís peace.† Jaws is a typical terror and desperation brings Simon into Fionaís orbit.† Of course, training the puppy mainly means training his owner and Simon appears to be a hard case. However, Fiona is an expert trainer and before long, both Jaws and his master are entranced.

Then, Fionaís past catches up with her and her hard earned peace.† Eight years earlier, Fiona had been seized by a serial murderer, the so-called Red Scarf Killer. George Perry had targeted athletic young women, had stunned them, had driven them to a remote area, and had strangled them with a red scarf.† Fiona had managed to free herself from her bonds and escape her assailant.† But the cost had been high.† A year later, Perry had killed her fiancť.† He had been captured shortly thereafter and for seven years has been ensconced in a maximum security prison.† Fiona had believed that she had put this horrible experience behind her.

Then, the Red Scarf Killer reappears.† Clearly, RSK2, as the press calls him, is a copycat but he knows things about the previous killings that had been kept from the public.† The FBI knows the new killer has a connection with Perry and is pretty sure that sooner or later, he will come for Fiona, the one who got away.† Thus, the budding romance between Simon and Fiona plays out against the threat of a madman who may strike at any time.

Roberts creates really scary villains and here she offers two for the price of one.† Perry has found his apprentice and set him to his task of revenge.† But the student has his own agenda, his own motivations and ultimately, his own technique.† Readers who are uncomfortable with graphic descriptions of a killerís mind and his victimsí horrors will not be comfortable with this part of the book.† But The Search is, after all, about serial killer and these are not nice people.

Fionaís and Simonís romance is appealing.† They seem like opposites: She is tidy; he is messy. She lives within a web of friends and family; he is a loner.† She is empathetic; he seems blunt and acerbic.† Yet they fit together nicely.† Simon seems to understand intuitively how to help Fiona through the crisis.† Fiona can accept Simonís need to protect her without feeling any less able to take care of herself.† Nobody is better than Roberts at creating strong heroes and heroines.† To use dog training jargon, these are two alphas who may joust occasionally for position, but who nevertheless will be devotedly loyal to each other.

And then there are the dogs.† I donít suppose you have to be a dog lover to enjoy The Search, but I donít doubt that it helps.† Heck, after reading this story, Iím almost ready to sell my condo and embark once again on the grand adventure of living with a dog, but only if I could be sure that I could find a Fiona to train me.

The Search is a typical Roberts romance, which means, when all is said and done, that it is better than at least ninety percent of all the romantic suspense out there.† As I say whenever I review one of her books, I donít know how she does it.† † † †

--Jean Mason

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