The reading matter for sale on board Bretagne was not great, but I accept there’s a space issue involved. I wish they would open their bookstore as soon as people are on board instead of making them wait an hour or more. (I don’t know exactly how long, because I gave up after an hour and a half and bought a book from the even smaller section in duty free.) I chose The Search by Nora Roberts. Pricey at £12.99 for a paperback. I’ve read Nora before, and though this one held my attention on the ferry and afterwards, I don’t think it was her best by any means.
The heroine runs a dog-training centre and there is a good deal about dog-training in the book. It’s almost a manual. I found it interesting, but many won’t and will skim through the doggy bits. There’s a quality about this book that is common to most of her work - it’s full of dialogue; the NR short, snappy sentences. There's what I call the Area of Interest. Sometimes it's Alaska's cold, sometimes it's haute cuisine, sometimes its gardening. There’s third person POV internal thought: He’s cold she thought. Hungry now, and scared. He wants his mother. Next we jump into straight into author-POV on the next line: When the rain increased, they continued on, the tireless dog, the tall woman in rough pants and rougher boots. Her tail of pale red hair hung in a wet rope down her back, while lake-blue eyes searched the gloom. A year ago, I wouldn’t have noticed this, but now I do. Terrible writing habits, to skip between POV like that, according to the text books and my critique group!
The relationship between hero and heroine is much as usual – two handsome people meet, one or both has some kind of hang-up, reluctantly admit to attraction and gradually admit to love. All through this book I kept thinking of a previous book and hero. The connection was wood, for both are carpenters. The earlier book was set in the east coast mountain range where the heroine takes over a dilapidated mansion and has the local carpenter do the work of restoration for her. The bit that sticks in my mind is where he tells her not to go into a certain patch of garden, which she resents and heads off there at once; he stays where he is and says ‘Snakes.’ She gets out pretty darn quick.
So: the Area of Interest in this one is dog-training, interlinked with a heroine who once escaped being murdered and finds the killer is still after her. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it, but I worried the killer would murder the dogs more than I worried he would target either of the protagonists. The h/H just didn’t personalize themselves for me in the way the 4 dogs did.
Somehow this one lacks the high PTQ (Page Turning Quality) of her earlier books, and could have been shorter by a fair amount. One has to wonder if Nora has got to that point where her publishers will publish anything she writes because it has an assured audience waiting to plonk down their money and devour the story in three huge gulps. I suppose writing is like any other business – you try hard to achieve publication, achieve it, plateau with success and then – does the quality go down as the mind runs out of drive and stories? Does pride make a person go on when it is no longer a pleasure or a necessity?
Or, and this is the bit I find fascinating - do we readers follow the same rise and fall – find the books, devour them, become habituated to the style, the quality and therefore lose the sheer joy they first brought? If this had been her sixth book instead of her sixty-first, (or whatever amazing number it is – 190 something, I think) would I be as critical?
Probably not, because she would still have that newness, that freshness (for me) that excited me. So, instead of saying Nora’s “gone orf,” maybe I should stop reading her and look for new authors to give me the thrill I want. If enough people think, like me, that they’ve OD’d on NR and sales of her books fall, then Publishers will probably complain that readers are faddy, and she will feel as if she’s failing. Seems like it's a negative cycle and I can't see how to break it.