Black Hills by Nora Roberts
Cooper Sullivan is a resentful 11-year-old who has been sent to South Dakota to stay with his grandparents rather than staying in New York City for the summer with his friends. He’d rather show off his new Game Boy with the Tetris game that wasn’t available in the United States yet. Instead he’s stuck here in some stupid place with some stupid old people – they’re at least 50 – while his parents go to Italy to patch up their marriage. He is forced to go with his grandparents to the Chase family beef ranch where he meets 9-year-old Lil. He’d much rather be at baseball camp than hanging out with some dumb girl… Soon, though, Coop learns Lil, his grandparents, and South Dakota aren’t bad. Over the years Lil becomes his best friend.
Lil Chase knows where she is going in life. At nine she planned to be the first professional female baseball player in the U.S. But before she ends high school she knows she is going into animal protection and conservation. She has started working on her father to turn part of the ranch into an animal refuge. As Coop returns most summers from New York City, they become best friends. He is also the first man Lil falls in love with.
Coop doesn’t know where he is going in his life. Eventually he leaves Lil behind and makes a life in New York City. He becomes a policeman, then a private detective and learns where he belongs. Now, 20 years after his first visit, he returns to South Dakota, this time to take over his grandfather’s horse ranch and stay. He also knows he now has to face his feelings for Lil because she is engaged to someone else.
The Chase Animal Refuge is a big success. Lil has her share of detractors. She certainly doesn’t expect someone to hate her so much as to kill a caged cougar she wants to release back to the wild. She soon learns the hunter wants more. He’s hunting her. Fortunately Coop’s cop instincts kick in. He and the local sheriff want to catch this killer – one they believe has killed other women in the wild. And Coop will protect Lil – even if it means staying at her place until the killer is caught and stopped.
Black Hills has an excellent start. I was immediately pulled in by the resentful, sullen boy whose parents don’t want him around. Nora Roberts captures his feelings so well and the reader has to empathize with him. But after that, Coop’s character falls into the background. He is the romantic interest, of course, so his character is in the forefront of the whole book. But his presence fades away somewhat. Instead the book focuses on Lil and the serial killer.
Lil’s character is strong but rarely stupid. Her emotional tangle over Coop is a problem yet never quite comes alive for the reader. But the mystery takes over and keeps Black Hills from being mediocre. The mystery is edgy. The reader stays in suspense. This is a Nora Roberts romantic suspense, so the reader knows it will all be fine in the end, but… Getting there is the ride and the reader enjoys it.
I also like Tansy, Lil’s best friend, and her side story interest. Tansy is something I haven’t seen much in Roberts’ novels but am glad to see here. She’s also a strong woman. We don’t learn immediately that she’s black. In fact I almost missed it until it became an integral part of the second story line. We need more Tansy’s – and we don’t need to know that she’s black until later in the story. It shouldn’t matter to the reader.
The mystery in Black Hills is excellent. The personal story between Lil and Coop could be stronger. This is romantic suspense to enjoy.
Notice: Non-graphic violence, Strong indecent language, Strong sexual content