|Nora Roberts is incapable of writing a bad novel, but given the sheer volume of her output, some of her books are bound to be better than others. Angels Fall is enjoyable but it breaks no new ground, and I was less than impressed by its irritable hero.
Reece Gilmore has led a nomadic life for the past eight months, following arbitrary signs in her trek across the country far from her Boston home. Although she’s not on the run from anyone, she is trying to put herself back together after a devastating night of random violence. When her car dies near the small town of Angel’s Fist, Wyoming, she decides to stay for a while, taking a job as a cook at a local diner. The restaurant’s owner, Joanie, is brusque but kind, and the work is easy for a woman who was once a rising chef at a trendy urban restaurant. Reece slowly starts to feel more comfortable with herself and tolerant of the townspeople’s friendly nosiness, but she still checks the locks on her door obsessively and startles at any loud noise.
On a day off from work, Reece decides to take a hike along the Snake River. She’s enjoying the view when suddenly she sees a man and woman arguing in the distance. Before her horrified eyes, the man strangles the woman with his bare hands. Reece runs for help and encounters Brody, a laconic mystery writer and former journalist. He helps her contact the police and calms her down. When the sheriff finds no evidence of a crime – no body, no sign of a struggle, no tire prints – Brody is the only person who believes her. After all, everyone knows that Reece has been through a lot, and she’s still suffering from the trauma. It was probably a figment of her overactive imagination. Then strange incidents start to happen to Reece – only a few misplaced objects at first, then increasingly more disturbing episodes. Reece starts to doubt her own sanity. Or is someone – perhaps the murderer she can’t identify – trying to terrorize her into flight?
Angels Fall works best when it focuses on Reece’s recovery from her original trauma. She arrives in Wyoming a scared, skinny ghost of a woman and slowly finds her inner strength through new relationships and rediscovery of her passion for cooking. She’s quirky and jumpy, with an interesting habit of talking out loud to herself and reciting the multiplication tables when stressed. But by the end of the book she demonstrates her courage in dramatic fashion. Some of the book’s best interactions are between Reece and her boss Joanie, whose tough-as-nails persona is vaguely reminiscent of Eve Dallas. Reece’s horror at not being able to find foodie ingredients like fresh dill, cumin and “cheese that doesn’t taste like plastic” is particularly amusing, and her search for peace and a new home is very poignant.
Unfortunately the suspense plot isn’t as effective. The truth behind the series of menacing events that plague Reece is obvious, and the pattern starts to become repetitive: something weird happens, Reece gets upset, nobody believes her but Brody. Repeat with escalating danger ad nauseum. Fortunately the identities of the murderer and his victim are not easy mysteries to solve. There are several red herrings (some more obvious than others), and the final 25 pages are taut and exciting.
I wasn’t too thrilled about Brody as the romantic hero either. He’s a decent guy, and his no-nonsense attitude towards Reece inspires her to cultivate her own strength far more than if he had been overly solicitous and sympathetic. But he’s often a grouchy curmudgeon as well as a stereotypical male commitment-phobe without a cause. We don’t know much about him – he left his reporter job in anger when he was the victim of plagiarism, his parents are still alive and married – so his gun-shy and sometimes hurtful attitude towards Reece is hard to justify. Of course he’s redeemed in the end, but he pales in comparison to many of Nora’s other heroes, including the divine Roarke from the In Death series and Nate Burke from 2004’s Northern Lights.
Reading about Reece’s tasty meals left me hungry, but unfortunately the book wasn’t fulfilling enough to satisfy my appetite. Angels Fall is good, but not great, Nora Roberts.