The Search

Nora Roberts
July 2010, Romantic Suspense
Putnam, $26.95, 496 pages, Amazon ASIN 0399156577

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Some characters simply capture the heart and don't let go. They challenge all your assumptions, make you long to believe they are real and more, make you long to have them in your own life. This book had the extreme good fortune to have four such fabulous beings inhabit its pages. Jaws, Bogart, Newman, and Peck were four of the greatest I have had the pleasure of encountering on the written page. The book shines, sings, and soars when they are present. Who knew that the best judge of a hero and heroine could be how fabulous their pets are?

Fiona Bristow survived a nightmare to land in her own version of a day dream. After the red scarf killer murdered her fiancÚ in retaliation for her surviving his attack, she moved to Orcas Island, determined to heal and rebuild. Training dogs might not be everyone's idea of heaven, but it has certainly been a little slice of the ideal for her and she is very, very good at it. So good in fact that she trains the local search and rescue canine squad in addition to doing basic manners training for your average pooch. Her three Labs are not only heroes in their own right, but her very best friends. And believe me, once you get to know Peck, Newman, and Bogart you'll wish they were your best friends too.

Simon Doyle's mother may have meant to provide him with a best friend but the puppy she gave him has instead turned into his worst enemy. Even as he tries to talk the dog trainer into working with the little terror, Jaws manages to eat the headrest on his new truck. How can a wood artist get any work done with such a dynamo wreaking havoc in the shop?

Simon and Jaws may not be a match made in heaven, but Fee sees lots of promise in both of them. Especially since the man gets her long dormant hormones flowing and the pup represents all the best she can do professionally. They might just be the pot of gold at the end of her hard built, brightly colored island rainbow. But as she explores her relationship with the man and his dog, a cloud begins to cover her horizon. It seems that the past isn't quite as behind her as she'd like. Her former nemesis has found a pupil. And the pupil aims to outdo the master, with the proof being killing the one who evaded his teacher.

The beginning portions of this book, dealing with Fiona and Simon, Jaws, and Fee's three dogs are about as intense and exciting as Robert's has been in awhile for me. It was fascinating to watch the various relationships grow and strengthen. It was equally interesting to learn the art and discipline of search and rescue dogs and, heck, to just learn basic good tips for training a playful, overly active puppy. The dogs really are characters in their own right and interacting with them its own reward. Unlike many book pets, they aren't just there to create cute moments, these dogs are an important part of the plot. Not only are they the stars of the search and rescues, they are the core of who Fiona is and what she does. More, the author uses them expertly to reveal the hearts of all the human characters around them. Jaws especially works to highlight the heart of gold that hides behind Simon's rather rude and gruff exterior. We can tell the hero is all bark and no bite as his little terror makes a patsy of him.

This is a Roberts, so of course we get a strong heroine matched with an equally strong hero. Both of them are likeable, decent working class people who are infinitely relatable. They relax over beer and pizza, wonder how bills will be paid, take minor vacations, and remind us that love is the one piece of magic we are never too poor to own.

And since it is a Roberts we get wonderful girlfriends in Syl and Mai and great guy friends in James and Davey. While Simon is more of a loner than Fee, we do interact some with his family and see Fee slowly pulling him into her social circle.

With all the love, your probably wondering why not an A? Well, it had an A until the last third of the book. At that point in time it became very much a typical suspense novel with all the attention put on the killer, the FBI, and everyone's plans to outwit him. Given how great the first sections of the book were being bounced back into typical territory was very jarring. Added to that was that the dogs became characters sent out to play or otherwise used sparingly, which hurt after the large role they played in the beginning. That said, I would still recommend this one. I so thoroughly enjoyed the beginning I moved it straight to my keeper shelf.

-- Maggie Boyd

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