It always amazes me when an excellent writer manages to slip under my radar and I "discover" her works after everyone else has been enjoying them for years. Such is the case with Nora Roberts and her latest, BLUE SMOKE. On the upside, I am delighted to know that I have at least 30 of her past works to read as well as her J.D. Robb series yet to explore.
While some may be disturbed by the level of violence in this story, the author uses her considerable skills to convey extreme brutality without resorting to gratuitous gore. The reality of a serial arsonist's lust for vengeance demands no less. There is no way to minimize the effects of fire on burning flesh, just as there is no gentle way to reveal the mind of a sociopath bent on revenge. However, the mayhem caused by the perpetrator is expertly contrasted with the lifestyle and caring displayed by those who are being victimized. Thus, the writer creates a varied and very interesting emotional environment for the reader.
The Hale family lives in a Baltimore row house and is the second generation to run Sirico's, an Italian pizzeria. The very Irish Gibson Hale married the lovely Bianca and was quickly assimilated into the family business and the growing Italian family that lived and loved richly in the neighborhood. Their children thrived, going to school and helping in the restaurant, learning the business that would one day belong to one of them. However, the attempted rape of 11-year-old Caterina Hale sets into motion a series of events that will span 20 years, leaving death and wreckage in its wake.
Contrasts again serve to highlight values and emotions as Nora Roberts depicts the two families involved. In this age where rudeness rules and civility is trumped by rampant "self-expression," it's almost unsettling to find a family that actually lives the love they profess for one another. As Gib and Bianca stand behind their children, as Reena's sister Fran is there for her as she is there for their sister Bella, as younger brother Alexander grows to be a dedicated father, you keep waiting for someone to snipe or swipe, but it never happens. Love and values prevail. Meanwhile, anger, defiance and evil pervade the other family as its arsonist acts out destruction.
In case the exciting hunt for the arsonist and the well-researched investigations are not enough, BLUE SMOKE also has a delightful love story that will bump up even the most non-committal heart a notch or two. In addition, Nora Roberts has a smart-aleck sense of humor that she imparts to her characters, making them sound just like people you know or wish you knew. As an example, my favorite quote: "I believe good overcomes evil, especially if good works its ass off." Me too.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on December 22, 2010