Come Sundown, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, June 11, 2017

TITLE: Come Sundown
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

The Bodine ranch and resort in western Montana is a family business, an idyllic spot for vacationers. A little over thirty thousand acres and home to four generations, it’s kept running by Bodine Longbow with the help of a large staff, including new hire Callen Skinner. There was another member of the family once: Bodine’s aunt, Alice, who ran off before Bodine was born. She never returned, and the Longbows don’t talk about her much. The younger ones, who never met her, quietly presume she’s dead. But she isn’t. She is not far away, part of a new family, one she never chose?and her mind has been shattered...

When a bartender leaves the resort late one night, and Bo and Cal discover her battered body in the snow, it’s the first sign that danger lurks in the mountains that surround them. The police suspect Cal, but Bo finds herself trusting him-and turning to him as another woman is murdered and the Longbows are stunned by Alice’s sudden reappearance. The twisted story she has to tell about the past?and the threat that follows in her wake?will test the bonds of this strong family, and thrust Bodine into a darkness she could never have imagined.
In Come Sundown, we travel to Montana, where the Bodine-Longbow family run a successful ranch/resort. Bodine Longbow, the daughter of the family, is our heroine. She's confident and competent, the sort of woman who doesn't suffer fools gladly. As the book starts, Callen Skinner has just returned to the area and has taken a job at the ranch. Callen grew up there with a father who was a gambling addict and who lost pretty much all of the family's lands. He was best friends with Chase, Bodine's older brother, and she had a bit of a crush on him, but one that never turned into anything. Now that Cal is back after a successful career in Hollywood as a horse wrangler working in films, both are grown, single, and attracted to each other.

As they court, things around them start getting very worrying. A young woman working as a bartender in the resort is found murdered, and soon the same thing happens with a young college student returning home. Someone is killing young women, and one of the deputies is convinced it's Cal.

Interspersed with the present-day story, we get the story of Alice, Bodine's mother's sister. Alice is the family black sheep, as she left in a dramatic huff almost 25 years earlier (on the day of her sister's wedding, no less), and after sending a few postcards for a couple of years, disappeared off the face of the Earth. Her mother still grieves for her absence, but her sister and grandmother are still pretty angry at her.

We soon find out that Alice did not disappear of her own volition. After a couple of years she decided to come home, only she ran into the wrong guy as she hitchhiked closer to home. The man who took her was one of those American survivalist / fundamentalist types, and he decided to take her for his 'wife'. For almost 25 years, Alice has been basically his slave, trapped, beaten, constantly raped and forced to bear her captor's children. And then she escapes.

I have very mixed feelings about this one. I mostly enjoyed it as I was reading it, but now that I've finished and think back about it, I don't think it was very good at all. I like the setting and the family and the writing, and I particularly liked seeing Alice come back to life. However, there were too many elements that could have been a lot better.

The romance was very meh, and that's a problem when the book is supposed to be a romance novel. I never warmed up to Bodine or to Callen. They felt a bit shallow, possibly because neither of them experienced any sort of growth during the book, beyond Callen sort of coming to terms with his mother's love for his gambling-addict father (not that this seems to affect him much at all now). Both Bo and Cal are perfectly fine from the start, two happy people who simply become happier by getting together. That's a great thing to aspire to, but I'm afraid it didn't make for a particularly interesting romance, as there was absolutely no conflict between them. There's no reason why they wouldn't be together, and mostly (other than a couple of scenes where they sort of fight after one or the other flies off the handle for no reason at all, other than plot) they just start dating and it works perfectly fine. There was nothing objectionable there, but nothing that drew me in, either.

I also had some issues with the Alice storyline. I did love it once she came home, but in the first sections there are a lot of scenes showing her in captivity. Those scenes really were harrowing, particularly the ones early on, when Alice's mind is still not beaten down by the abuse. To be honest, they felt unnecessarily graphic to me, and they didn't really go well with the rest of the book.

And then there was the suspense subplot. Exactly the same thing happened to me in the previous romantic suspense release by this author, in that as soon as I met a particular character, long before they'd done anything remotely suspicious, I knew pretty much everything. I'm not sure if it's that it was really telegraphed, or that I'm a bit too familiar with Nora Robert's oeuvre, but there was zero suspense for me. I was picking up every clue, and therefore the moment when the person's identity was revealed, which was clearly written to be a shock to the reader, was flat as a pancake.

I really don't know what's going on with Roberts. Lately her trilogies have gone terrible, her standalone romantic suspense books are hit or miss, but the In Death books are still fantastic. Weird.

MY GRADE: I'd give it a B-, and I'm being pretty generous here.


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