Sunday 15 November 2015

#CBR7 Book 118: "The Liar" by Nora Roberts

Page count: 512 pages
Audio book length: 16 hrs 37 mins
Rating: 4 stars (3.5 for the book, 0.5 for the narration)

Shelby Foxworth is only 24 when her husband dies in a boating accident, leaving her a widow with a three-year-old daughter. Shortly after her husband's death, she discovers that the man who swept her off her feet and who she believed was rich and successful, was in fact a swindler and a con man, leaving her with mountains of debt. Going through his papers, she finds evidence not only that he cheated on her, but that he had ID for multiple identities. In a safe deposit box, she finds 250 000 dollars in cash, a gun and proof that the man she knew as Richard Foxworth was someone completely fictional.

Forcing herself to stay strong, she sells off all of her late husband's clothes, shoes, watches and jewelry, as well as all the fancy clothes he wanted her to wear. She discovers that most of the jewelry she'd been given consisted of fakes, but once she gets organised enough to put their massive house on the market, selling all the furniture, wine, art and collectibles that Richard filled the house with, the debt goes from crippling to merely formidable. Before she returns home to her family, she is approached by a private investigator who claims that her husband took part in a robbery of jewels and stamps valued at nearly 30 million dollars. The PI refuses to believe that Shelby could have been married to a man for nearly five years and naively never clued into his true nature. Shelby assures him that she knows nothing about her husband's shady dealings and asks to be left alone.

She goes home to Rendezvous Ridge, Tennessee, where her family embraces her with open arms. While she was married to Richard, he rarely let her return for more than a few days at a time, and they've missed both her and Callie, her little girl. Initially, Shelby is reluctant to tell her extensive family the full truth about how naive she was and how badly Richard treated her, but being back in the safe haven of her home town, she can't go long without coming clean. She refuses to let her parents or grandparents help pay off the remaining debt, instead knuckling down to find a job and making a new life for herself and her daughter. She meets carpenter and contractor Griffin Lott, pretty much the polar opposite of the flashy, manipulative bastard she was married to, and he makes both her and Callie feel like a million bucks. But there are still shadows from her old life ready to come back to haunt her.

What I liked:
- January LaVoy's narration is amazing. There are so many different characters and accents in this book, and she managed to differentiate them all brilliantly. With the exception of Griff's partner Matt, who sounds more like he's a teenage boy than a grown man, she made the listening experience so good. The only reason I'm rating the book 4 stars is because of her voice talents.
- Shelby's pluck and determination. Rather than let herself be broken by all the new and horrible discoveries she makes about Richard, Shelby soldiers on and extremely bravely takes on huge challenges. She holds her head high and is determined to dig herself out of the mess she landed in.
- Shelby's family - In Tennessee, Shelby has parents, grandparents, brothers, a sister-in-law and nephews and they're all pretty great. Determined not to let Shelby beat herself up too much about the mistake she made in trusting and falling for Richard, they're more than willing to take care of her until she's back on her feet.
- Showing that abuse doesn't have to be physical - Richard was a skilled manipulator, who saw a perfect cover for his shady cons in Shelby and dazzled her with charm, wealth and exotic travels until she was so spellbound that she would do anything he asked. Then he skillfully started eating away her confidence, making her seem ignorant, stupid, unattractive and helpless. Isolating her from friends and family, making sure that she could only shop with credit cards, so he could keep track of all her expenses, making it much harder for her to actually leave him, if she could summon up the courage to do so. Shelby keeps saying that he never hit her, but takes a long time to come to terms with the fact that she suffered abuse, nonetheless.
- Griffin, who might actually be almost too perfect. Laid-back, extremely skilled at his job, easy-going, well-liked by absolutely everyone in town. Good-looking, charming, patient, great with kids. Of course he's bought Shelby's dream house on the edge of town and is slowly and lovingly restoring it with his magical handyman skills. Sensible, very good deductive abilities (Shelby's brother, the deputy sheriff, keeps deputising him to help with police work). I'm not sure Griff had a single flaw.
- The ending. While pretty much anyone who's ever read a single suspense narrative isn't going to be overly surprised at the developments towards the end of the book, or the identity of the person who's been running around killing Richard's former associates, who all show up in Rendezvous Ridge at some point to try to question Shelby about the whereabouts of the heist loot, I thought it was dealt with really well. Throughout the book, Shelby was pretty much the opposite of a damsel in distress, and even when in mortal danger, she didn't wait around for any of the many strong menfolk in her life to come and rescue her, she handled the situation admirably herself. Seriously, I had such low expectations to the ending that the way it was dealt with made me raise my rating for the book from 3 to 3.5.

What didn't work so well for me:
- If someone's husband runs up a huge amount of debt and then dies, is the wife really responsible for all of it? I've seen several reviews of the book comment on this and I also think it seems very far-fetched. Especially after Shelby discovers that Richard Foxworth wasn't even her husband's real name or identity and that he had a history as a thief and a con man. Surely she could contact the authorities and get the debt forgiven somehow?
- The length of the book. The book goes into minute detail about every single thing Shelby does after discovering that Richard is a lying cheat. Every thing she sells, the complicated process of putting her house on the market, her fears and worries, her road trip back home. Pretty much every errand she runs, every conversation she has, every person she talks to when trying to get a job - it's related far too closely. While Ms. Roberts does a great job of establishing the feel of the small town Shelby is from and making you care for the characters, a lot of the plot drowns in trivialities.
- The subplot with Melody, Shelby's enemy from high school. Melody was an unrealistically histrionic character and I didn't think a singly scene with her added significantly to the plot or the development of the other characters in any way.
- The lack of suspense - for a book that is supposed to be romantic suspense, this book is more like decorating porn than a tense and action-packed read. There is a huge amount of page space dedicated to house remodels, bathroom refurbishments, paint colours, tiles, decorating and home improvement in general. Every so often, someone on the trail of Richard, either one of his nefarious old associates or someone from the law turns up, each new encounter revealing even more of what a rotten piece of work he was, but even with a couple of dead bodies turning up, there isn't all that much that is suspenseful until the end of the book.

I haven't actually read a whole lot of the books Nora Roberts has written under her own name (I'm somewhere in the 20s when it comes to her J.D. Robb books). With the exception of her Bride quartet (about four friends who run a wedding planning business), this is my first experience with the books of La Nora. The book came highly recommended on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and the audio was praised on All About Romance, so when the book was on sale at Audible while I was concussed and in search of a new book to entertain me, it seemed like the perfect coincidence. While I wish Ms. Roberts had trimmed out a lot of the small town ambiance scenes that didn't move the plot or character developments forward in any way, I don't mind the hours I spent listening to the book. It should probably not be the first romantic suspense by Ms. Roberts you pick up, though, as there is a lot more just idyllic Southern small town everyday life here than actual suspense.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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