Offensive content: mild violence and some sex scenes.
Let me start by saying that Nora Roberts is one of my favorite authors and any new release automatically finds its way onto my wishlist and, a short time after, onto my books-to-read pile.
That being said, her books are kind of hit or miss for me. While I absolutely loved books like The Search, Angels Fall, Chasing Fire or Black Hills (remember me to post reviews about those one of these days, though they are already oldies), others like The Villa, The Reef and most of her trilogies and series never really made my day. Not to mention her oldest romance novels from the 80s, even if recently most of them were reprinted. Not that they aren't good, but I've never felt the compulsion to re-read them like some of the others.
Whiskey Beach came sort of in between. While it's a good book and I'd still advise anyone to read it, it doesn't have the wow factor to make it a great must-read book.
The plot is fairly simple. Eli Landon, a lawyer from Boston, returns to Bluff House, his grandmother's home and where he remembers spending lots of happy moments during his childhood. The moment of his return, however, is not particularly happy, since Eli's grandmother is recovering from a nasty fall and Eli himself is at a crossroads in his life. Months early his wife (whom he was in the process of divorcing) was murdered and he was the prime suspect. The absence of proof has ruled out his guilt in the process, but the whole ordeal ruined his life. He lost his job, distanced himself from his family and basically stopped living. And there is still a certain degree of doubt whether or not he's to blame for his wife's death. Her family certainly thinks he's guilty and never misses an opportunity to publicly say so and a certain detective from Boston keeps trying to chase him down. The Eli Landon we meet at the beginning of the book is not a happy person and it was hard to like him in those first pages.
Abra Wash is Eli's opposite. She's the neighbor/cleaning lady/cook at Bluff House and a good friend of Eli's grandmother. And while the author leads us to believe she's not had an easy life, she has a practical and refreshing vision of the world. She multitasks a lot, but I can really relate to that. Abra's presence forces (literally, she's pushy) Eli to open up and, eventually, to stand up and face his own demons. That they end up romantically involved is not exactly a surprise but I still enjoyed reading that part of the book.
In addition to the romance, however, there's supposed to be a suspense story. And that's where I think the book falls short. The premise is interesting enough. Bluff House has been in the family for several generations and legend tells a treasure was buried or hidden somewhere in the house. That story is OK and the descriptions of Bluff House's basement are really powerful. I'm not sure I would even want to sleep in a house like that. Anyway, Eli discovers that someone has been digging around in the basement and that his grandmother's fall may have not been an accident, and then Abra herself is attacked one night. Where is the problem then? Well, it's not entirely believable that anyone, even someone desperate for the treasure, would start digging around in a basement that, according to the book, seems huge and hard-floored, without a single clue whether or not the treasury is there. It's not rational, unless that person (I won't say who to avoid spoiling you the surprise) had some way of knowing the probable location. It certainly doesn't justify assault and, ultimately, murder. But there is no long lost treasure map and no hint that the digging is something other than a totally random act. The family story behind the compulsion to find the treasure is a bit rushed and again doesn't seem reason enough for the acts perpetrated. And if you can't believe that, you can't believe the rest of the plot too.
In parallel, Eli's wife's murderer is discovered and while I hadn't guessed who it was (which really shows I wasn't very interested in it, since the list of characters is not that big), that subplot falls short too. It seems the author has included it in the book just to allow Eli to close that chapter and be able to fully find his happiness with Abra. But while I like happy endings, this had either to be more developed or just left out. The book is long already (the hardcover edition has almost 500 pages) so it wouldn't have made a lot of difference for Nora Roberts to add a few more lines detailing it.
These were my main issues with the book. I've heard some people complaining about editing. I read the hard cover edition, bought it immediately after it was published (and before I decided to go for an 100% digital library), and can't complain, but be warned that there may be glitches in the paperback and/or kindle/epub versions. I also read some reviews that said Nora Roberts is repeating the same themes over and over. While that may be somewhat true, the fact is that after you read a lot of romantic suspense from several authors, general plot lines are kind of common anyway. If a book is well written, unless it's an exact copy of a previously published one, I'm still going to read it.
Overall, a good book but definitely not her best, especially in terms of the suspense/mystery. I have The Collector and the Liar in my to-read list now, let's see if any of those fares better than Whiskey Beach. I'll let you know once I manage to find the time to read them.
(book cover from amazon.com)