Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts

Shelter in Place
by Nora Roberts
St. Martin's, 2018

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Nora Roberts’ new standalone novel, Shelter In Place, is meant to be a romantic thriller featuring the ripped-from-the-headlines issue of gun violence alongside trauma recovery, romance, and family drama all set against the backdrop of tracking and stopping a serial killer. If you think that sounds like a lot for one book to take on, you would be right.

Shelter In Place starts with a devastating mass shooting event at a shopping mall in small-town Maine and traces the interwoven lives of its survivors and their families over the next thirteen years. But it’s not all recovery and moving on for our heroes; someone from the shooting has unfinished business and won’t rest until they’ve finished what they started.

Given the decision to publish Shelter In Place under Roberts’ real name, rather than the J.D. Robb pen name used for her ...In Death romantic suspense series, readers may be expecting Roberts’ typical contemporary romance fare, but this is a very different kind of book, at times reading like a suspense thriller, at times a bildungsroman, with Roberts straying considerably from her usual formula. Longtime fans of her romances will be disappointed with Shelter In Place, since our leading lady and our hero do not even meet until halfway through the book, and they get together less than fifty pages later without any of the tumultuous passion or slow burn her readers have come to expect.

It wouldn't be hard to forgive this romantic thriller being light on the romance, particularly given the heinous nature of its subject matter, especially if it were heavy on the thriller, but that aspect leaves a lot to be desired as well. Much like romance, where the happily-ever-after is a foregone conclusion, in a thriller there should be reading joy in the twist and turns of getting there. However, as our hero, shooting survivor and village Police Chief Reed Quartermaine— at least the names are suitably over-the-top— tracks our killer, he remains in near-perfect step with them, and so does the reader. There isn’t a surprise to be had. In fact, the most surprising turn of events in the book is the abruptness of the final confrontation. I actually found myself saying aloud, “that’s it?”

Shelter In Place disappoints at almost every turn; from its lackluster romance plot to its un-thrilling police procedural drama. But perhaps nowhere is it less satisfying than its almost total omission of a trauma recovery narrative. Our leading lady, Simone Knox, hid in a bathroom stall while making the first 911 call during the event, and she lost her best friend, as well as other classmates, in the shooting. It’s hard to imagine her not experiencing more PTSD than can be waved away with the magic of meeting the right man. Roberts does a disservice to survivors and recovery stories by treating such trauma so lightly.

Roberts writes Shelter In Place without the passion of her romances, the suspense of her cop dramas, or the depth one would expect from a true trauma recovery narrative. In this book full of bland caricatures, the reader can only imagine the stories of heartbreaking tragedy, deep loss, hard-fought spiritual growth, and— one prays— ultimate hope that would accompany an event like this and which Roberts writes in a way that can be best described as merely adequately readable prose.

Sabrina Rourke