The Obsession by Nora Roberts
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Published by Berkley on April 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
The riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Liar.
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous.
Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.
Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.
Marlene: While I absolutely adore the In Death series that Roberts writes as J.D. Robb (even when the current entry is not so great) her Roberts books are a bit hit or miss for me. Sometimes they absolutely draw me in, and sometimes they are just okay. Without the continuing “family” of In Death, they don’t always work, or at least not for me. While you can probably guess where I’m leading, it’s time to let my co-reviewer get a few words in.
Amy: I take a slightly different view of Roberts’ work from Marlene’s; for me, she’s a go-to girl, with utterly reliable reads (well, almost all the time.) Most any of her books will at least get a good look, if not a full read. I tend to find myself falling into her trilogies (as my recent review of Blue Dahlia, and my forthcoming review of Black Rose point out), but this standalone piece gave Roberts plenty of time to tell us a thoroughly involved story. I have a sneaking suspicion that Marlene and I may run in completely different directions on this review!
Marlene: I found the opening sections of this story completely absorbing. The tale of what Naomi did when she was a girl, grabbed me and shook me, hard. The background of Naomi’s fear of her emotionally abusive father, her restlessness, her shattering loss of innocence, was very atmospheric and completely riveting. We’re with her on that dark journey, and we shake, cower and soldier on when she does. As the story in the past continues, we feel for her as she and her family try to find a way to get past the evil that flourished in their midst. While I wouldn’t have wanted to have read through all the intervening years, when the story shifted from the past to Naomi’s present, it lost its urgency for me.
Amy: I concur; the backstory at the beginning was incredibly rich, and attention-getting. Roberts had a *lot* of pages to tell us that story, so we had a better sense of the personae than usual. Like you, the “jump-take” to the present time struck me as a little bit jarring. There were loose ends that hadn’t been tied up for me, like what happened in the years after her mother’s passing, and how she came to be the wanderer we meet in the present day.
Suddenly involving Naomi in that huge house, and the precise spot where we joined the present day, just struck me as a little out-of-character, like there were useful bits of the story that got skipped. Roberts quickly recovers from that stumble, in my mind, though, and starts getting us involved with the locals.
Marlene: I liked the locals and the whole atmosphere of the town that Naomi finds herself settling in. The way that she was introduced to them gradually also worked very well for introducing them to us. I will confess that the dog she finally named Tag drove me crazy. Not because I didn’t love him, but because he reminded me so very much of a situation in another book. (After much searching, I finally figured out that it was in Jaci Burton’s Make Me Stay, where the hero gets adopted by a dog who is eventually named “Not My Dog” because the human always responds to any comments or questions about “his dog” by asserting that “he’s not my dog.”)
But the situation with the dog was somewhat symbolic of the story for me. While I liked the locals, and obviously loved the dog, so much of this part of the story felt a bit too familiar. They were all nice people but it didn’t feel like there was much different going on from too many small-town romances and romantic suspense titles that I’ve read before. So while I enjoyed watching Naomi put together her dream house, for this reader it went on a bit too long.
Amy: Anyone who expects a formulaic romance author as prolific as Nora Roberts to *not* have a formulaic section–well. This was, to me, kind of expected, and I’d spend the first big section of the book wondering when the extras would start showing up. When we got here, I kind of knew, and it was a comfortable spot…okay, here’s where we meet The Man, and The Helpful Other Man, and The Man’s Best Pal, and so on. Roberts did a good job of making what could be a whole stage full of cardboard cutout people at least *somewhat* interesting; our hero Xander–what a name!–jumps off the page fairly quickly. But once we got those folks identified, I started to wonder what on earth she was gonna do with all those pages–where’s the conflict gonna come from? Turned out, when it came time for that, she threw me a curve that totally blew me away.
Marlene: Yes, there is always a formula, and I expected one here. I think what threw me with this particular formula was that I believe that if I looked hard enough, I’d find a very close approximation to this exact story in one of the In Death books. (I looked, I think it’s New York to Dallas) It felt like I’d read a bit too much of this too close together before.
I did like Xander a lot. I wish we saw a bit more of what makes him tick, because he’s really interesting. He owns/is the local car mechanic, is in a very good cover band, half-owns the local bar and owns a couple of buildings. His journey must be pretty interesting all by itself. I also liked Kevin and Janey. Both that she found an adopted brother and best friend, but that the romantic tension in the story was about Naomi and someone other than the guy fixing her house.
However when the suspense element seriously kicks in, at 55% of the book on my kindle, the suspense factor went out the window for me. I knew instantly exactly who the villain was. To me, it was a grand case of “Chekhov’s gun” and there was simply no second choice. It had to be who it was, and it was. My only questions from that point were how was he going to get caught and how much damage would he do along the way.
Amy: I agree with you about Xander–he seemed like a really neat guy, and not–like some bodice-rippers–too good to be true, but a guy who’d worked hard and had some talent and lucky breaks. I’d have loved to hear more about that. But when it comes to the suspense, that’s where we start to differ. Now, to be fair, I’ve not read but one of the J. D. Robb books, and that was long, long ago. I totally did not have any sense of our villain, and kept wondering if anyone had thought to call up the prison in New York to see if that monster of a father of hers had escaped! Finally, someone said, “he’s in prison, and will be forever,” or something similar, and that’s when I started to get an inkling. It took me quite a while to sort out the villain.
Marlene: I’ll admit that I don’t know quite how I was so certain it wasn’t daddy. If it had been, I believe that someone would have called Naomi the minute the scum got out of prison, if it hadn’t been all over the news. This is someone who is, after all, never getting parole in this or his next several lifetimes. No prison break equaled “not daddy dearest”. I did have a momentary flitting thought that Naomi’s brother might have gone “dark side” but that didn’t feel right either. Not to mention that little brother became an FBI profiler. That left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun sitting on the mantelpiece of the past, just waiting to be taken down and set off.
Amy: “Every memorable element must be necessary and irreplaceable,” sure. Chekhov’s Gun. True enough, but for me, the first meeting with our villain just *wasn’t* that memorable, other than the odd circumstance they found themselves in just then. I was rather tied up in what was going on there, and he was–in my mind–a schoolmate, nothing more. I started to “get it” when Naomi’s brother and the local cops started to connect the dots, showing what a prolific monster our villain really was–as bad, perhaps, as daddy dearest.
…and that’s when, like you, I started to wonder how they’d catch him, what sort of trap they’d have to set, or if he’d catch Naomi and force Xander and a Cast Of Friends to do something Amazingly Heroic.
Marlene: You’re absolutely right. When originally introduced, our villain was not terribly memorable. However he did set off Naomi’s creep-o-meter just enough to get her to write her own version of her story for the New York Times. But to quote both Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
It couldn’t be daddy dearest, it couldn’t be little brother, which left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun as the last man standing. And once I was sure it was him, at, as I said, 55% of the book, it was a long wait and a few too many dips into his very nasty mind before he was finally given his just desserts. While I know that logically it would take the FBI and local law enforcement a bit more effort to gather evidence than my semi-logical leap, that process wasn’t entertaining enough for me.
Amy: I enjoy police procedurals on television, even when I *know* that our heroes will all go home at the end of the forty-five minutes with the bad guy behind bars. So for me, watching the dots get connected was kind of entertaining; it did fill in the holes for me about why it *wasn’t* her father or some other previously-unmet person. One thing I’ll agree with you fully on here–that dude was *creepy*. His headspace was a truly messy place, and I always felt a little…dirty, I guess…after peeking into his thoughts. Not someone I’d want to be around, at all.
But for me, maybe I’m a little one-dimensional, but the only way I’d have picked up on our villain as quickly as you did would have been if we’d seen something like him leaving her a nastygram that says, “You’ve not heard the last of me, Naomi!” or something similar. I’m *good* at suspending disbelief like that.
Marlene: Clearly, one result of this review for me is that I probably will stay away from Roberts’ non-In Death books for a while. I love the police procedural aspects of that series, because I’m invested in all of the characters that make up the “family of choice” that readers follow in the series. In this particular book, the dot connecting, while very necessary for the resolution of the story, went on just a bit too long for me. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, and in this case obviously does. That’s what makes joint reviewing a book so much fun.
In summary, there were parts of The Obsession that I liked, particularly the stage-setting in Naomi’s past. But once the story moved to the present day, it felt a bit dragged out to me. I liked the characters, especially the “not my dog” named Tag, but the suspense plot lacked suspense. I figured out “whodunnit” much, much too early.
Marlene’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: B-
Amy: There were a lot of likable bits in The Obsession for me. As someone who *doesn’t* read a lot of suspense stories, there was more of it than I’m used to, so I was able to let go and enjoy that part of the process. Our characters were interesting and engaging, and I would have loved to learn more about them. The backstory was one of the strongest parts of this story for me as well. I was a little jarred by the switch to present-day, and the following few chapters hit me as just a little bit *too* formulaic–I expected it, but it just seemed a little out of place for an otherwise-engaging story.
Amy’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: A-