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Monday, November 10, 2008


****½ Partners by Nora Roberts. Romantic suspense. re-read.

Partners is one of Nora's very early books, from 1985, and one of the better ones from that time.

Laurellie Armand and Matthew Bates are reporters and rivals, made a little more complicated by the facts that Laurel's father is the paper's editor and Matt is Laurel's brother's best friend. And by the fact that Matt has had a "thing" for Laurel ever since he saw a picture her brother had of her in college. Their disparate backgrounds and the fact that Laurel's dating someone proper but dull have made Matt bide his time.

Everything changes when Susan Fisher tells Laurel she thinks her sister was murdered. Susan's sister Anne had been married to Laurel's girlhood crush for a year when she was found dead in the swamp from snakebite and exposure. The police called it an accident, but Susan swears Anne was terrified of the swamp, and would never have gone into it on her own.

Laurel agrees to investigate, but since the story of Anne's death was originally Matt's, her father assigns them to work together, and they soon find there's substance to Susan's suspicions. Laurel is threatened, and she has to deal with a loss of innocence about her childhood friends... not to mention she's falling in love with the insufferable Matt.

Partners is a quiet little book, but it's a very good example of a category romance. Matt and Laurel's romance is believable--they've been working together for a year, and respect each other professionally as well as being attracted to each other. As they work together, you can see that they're truly becoming partners in more ways than just the professional.

There's a small supporting cast, but they're vivid and well-drawn, and Laurel's grandmother is a fabulous character. Laurel gets Susan a job helping her grandmother write her memoirs, and I'd love to read them.

The mystery isn't all that complex, though it has a nice twist to the solution, and it's balanced well with the romance. Developments in the mystery plot affect the romance plot and vice versa.

I hate to praise by negatives, but one of the outstanding things about Partners is how it's unlike other romances of its time: Matt truly treats Laurel as a partner. Oh, he has protective feelings toward her, and tries to get her to let him handle things when it starts getting dangerous, even contemplates going behind her back--but he never does, which is the best of both worlds: he cares enough for her to feel protective, but he respects her enough not to act on it against her wishes. Laurel, too, is an anomaly for the genre at the time. She's good at her job, but not The Best Reporter Ever; and she's independent and snipes at Matt, but not to the ridiculous levels so many heroines, even now, stoop to. Likewise, the mystery isn't overdone, nor is the danger.

I guess I'm saying the story and the characters are believable and realistic. It's an excellent example of Nora's early work. Of course, it does have her trademark headhopping, but if you read much Nora, you're probably inured to that--or at least you expect it.

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