Top positive review
on July 15, 2006
If you are a long-time Nora Roberts fan, please be aware that this book is quite different from her usual fare. If you don't like violence and cruelty mixed in with your romances, this book isn't for you.
On the other hand, if you don't know her work and are interested in a novel that evokes the Greek tragedies, give Blue Smoke a try.
The ancient Greeks believed that the Fates determined what happened to us and that the gods were romping like spoiled children interfering in the lives of humans for their own pleasure. The modern version of that belief is that our environments, our families and our experiences shape us almost totally. Scientists would disagree, pointing out that many traits are inherited. The truth is somewhere in between. Blue Smoke takes that idea of circumstances and inheritance, and develops how two people might turn out to be quite opposite.
As the novel opens, the key incident is already in the background. Joey Pastorelli has assaulted Reena Hale in the school yard, and she would have suffered worse if her younger brother hadn't intervened. Her angry father confronted Joey's father, and that meeting touched off fiery tinder in all of their lives. Awakened by her first period, she looks down the street to see in her horror that the family's restaurant, Sirico's, in Baltimore's little Italy, is in flames. She sounds the alarm, and lives are saved. Fascinated by the fire and the investigation into what turns out to be arson, she determines to become an arson investigator. When the miscreant behind the fire turns out to be Joey's father, the whole family is relieved when he's carted off to jail. But the episode isn't over yet . . . although the Hale family doesn't realize it.
In the rest of the book, we see the effects of those events from the perspective of three narrators, Reena, Joey and Reena's future fiancé, Bo.
As you can see from this set-up, the book delves into more serious subject matter than most novels do. I found the work was quite impressive. I only graded the book down because the violence was too much for me. There's one scene in particular near the book's end that seemed particularly gratuitous. I think this story could have been written effectively without being so focused on criminal psychology. Yes, there are a few monsters out there. But, no, I don't expect to find them in suspense stories without more warning than this book provides to potential readers. If you dislike violence more than I do, you'll grade the book down even more.
A particular strength of the book is the way that the tensions among the characters are developed. You can see where the story is probably going, and you'll find yourself carried along by the story telling into wanting to know the details.