The third installment in the Quinn brothers trilogy is arguably its strongest entry. It's hard to tell if that's because Inner Harbor is a better novel than the other two, or simply because I've grown to care about these characters more and more with each novel. Either way, it's an extremely satisfying ending to a strong series, with characterizations, humor, poignancy, and romantic chemistry working together to create a definite Keeper.
Those readers who have already devoured the first two books in the series will be familiar with the hero, Phillip Quinn. Of the three adopted sons of Ray and Stella Quinn, he's the urbane, sophisticated one, the advertising executive who knows fine wines like the back of his hand. But, like Cam and Ethan, he was a fledgling gang member and juvenile delinquent until Ray and Stella gave him a second chance at life. He's covered up his wild beginnings to the point where no one would guess he once almost died after he was caught in the middle of a gang-related drive-by shooting.
Nora Roberts takes a chance with the novel's heroine, but if the reader has patience it pays off in spades. Dr. Sybill Griffin is a cool intellectual, renowned sociologist and author of several books on urban life. She is residing, temporarily, in the eastern Maryland town of St. Chris, ostensibly to turn her research to the peculiarities of rural
Actually, she's there to spy on the Quinns, especially Seth, the ten-year old boy adopted by Ray Quinn shortly before his death. Sybill is the sister of Gloria Lauter, Seth's abusive biological mother. Sybill has been told by Gloria that the Quinns have stolen Seth from her and she doesn't realize the depth of Gloria's duplicity and depravity. But when she meets the Quinns, especially Phillip, she begins to suspect that her sister hasn't told her the whole story. When the truth comes out, Sybill has to choose sides and prove to Seth and the Quinns that her loyalty and love are in the right place.
As I mentioned, it takes a while to warm up to Sybill. She's not one of Nora's fiery heroines, like Anna in Seaswept or a nurturing earth mother like Grace in Rising Tides. She is prone to intellectual statements such as when she says, with a straight face, "Oral stimulation is a proven remedy for stress," after Phillip kisses her
senseless. But by the end of the novel the reader understands the reasons for her reserve and cheers when she breaks free of her restraint in a most satisfying manner.
Throughout this series, the interplay among the Quinn men has been its most notable feature. Nora Roberts certainly knows how men think and behave. This time I was struck by how they expressed everything physically – from settling an argument to expressing affection. Their horseplay is humorous and their steadfast loyalty to each other is breathtaking.
More than anything else, this novel is a triumph for Seth Quinn. We finally learn the secret of his parentage and rejoice in how far he has come since the sullen, suspicious boy we met in Seaswept. He's learned to trust, feel safe, and even act like a regular kid. The poignancy of that evolution is captured when the adult Quinns provide
him with a special present at his first real birthday celebration, and its hilarity is captured in the aftermath of the party he shares with his ten-year old friends, as an exhausted Anna relates to Sybill:
"I will wake up at night for the rest of my life, screaming, until they cart me off to a padded room. I have ice cream in my hair. There's some sort of...mass on the kitchen table. I think it moved. One of those creatures who disguised himself as a young boy ate approximately sixty-five pieces of cake, then got into my car – I don't know how he got by me, they're like lightning – and proceeded to throw up."
This time the old "pick-up/put-down" test failed me as a reviewer. As I neared its conclusion, I found that I was actually reluctant to pick up Inner Harbor – but only because I didn't want to come to the end of what has become one of my favorite Nora Roberts series. I spent two days reading the last 24 pages of the novel just so I could
prolong my goodbye. And now I fear that I am facing one of those dreaded great-book "hangover" periods where no other novel will measure up for a while. Until Seth is old enough for his own book, maybe Nora could write another book in which the Quinns can discover another long-lost brother that Ray adopted but forgot to mention...it could happen, couldn't it?