Legacy: A Novel
The title of this book could have been Slow Burn, for that describes both the romance and the suspense elements of Nora Roberts’ new novel.
But its real title, Legacy, aptly describes the sins-of-the-father-flavored theme that ties the elements together. The story covers a family’s dual legacy of love and legacy of hate, and how they intertwine into a climax where one must overcome the other.
It’s a long, slow burn to get there, though. This will not be problem for the legions of Nora Roberts fans. For anyone entering her world for the first time, it’s probably not the best of her 220+ works to start with.
Ordinarily, novelists writing contemporary fiction are encouraged to minimize backstory at the beginning of a novel. But in this book, backstory is everything. The timeline begins with a bang when the heroine is seven years old and encounters her father for the only time in her life. That’s because: “The first time Adrian Rizzo met her father, he tried to kill her.”
Whoa! Almost impossible to not read on after that opening sentence. Obviously he doesn’t kill her, since the next few hundred pages comprise Adrian’s story into adulthood. But her mother kills that father in self-defense, and the consequences haunt them for decades to follow.
Between this opening and the climactic encounter, the book builds layer upon layer of family relationships. Family is a regular focus of Roberts’ works, including extended family. In Legacy family encompasses multiple generations, although the story limits itself to those within Adrian’s lifetime (compared to a multi-generational saga that moves on to new protagonists). The book also focuses on growing up, going away, and then returning home—which is where romance enters the picture.
Adrian first meets her destined soul mate when she is a child shortly after the debacle of her father’s killing. Her mother tucks her safely away at her own parents’ happy home in Maryland then returns to her city life as her own way of coping. The boy Adrian meets in Maryland, Raylan, is essentially the classic Boy Next Door, but both are so young and on such different tracks there is only the most superficial connection between them.
They grow up pursuing unrelated ambitions. Adrian, influenced by her mother, gets into fitness and video as a career and makes a huge success of it, while Raylan pursues his love of art, and science fiction and fantasy, to found a graphic novel publishing company that enjoys similar success. Raylan also marries his perfect partner and has children, while Adrian avoids long-term intimacy. In most ways they develop in opposite directions, though their passion and need for family bring them back together.
Meanwhile, an unnamed character begins sending threatening poetry to Adrian. By then she has become a public figure, like her mother, and is advised to just expect stalker garbage and shrug it off after dutifully passing the letters to police and FBI, just in case.
In this case it matters. The poems keep coming—for years—and escalate in frequency and menace. The police can find no trace of the writer, as he or she moves around too much, practicing killing all over the country with no connective threads, toward the goal of taking out Adrian for motives nobody knows.
Eventually the bell rings and Adrian and her clan realize something evil is heading her way. But they have no idea from whence it will come and how to protect her or themselves from it. As good people they can’t grasp what might actually happen, even though they fear what they imagine. Yet as optimistic and forthright folks, they suck up their fear and carry on, looking over their shoulders now and then but refusing to be cowed.
This proves to be a bad plan, for it sets them up to be blind-sided. Adrian especially.
For readers, the perpetrator is obvious; the possibilities are too limited to miss it. That creates a slow burn of suspense as the characters blithely carry on while readers know the clock is ticking.
The other slow burn is how long it takes Adrian and Raylan to discover each other. There’s a lot of romanticism in that, because they start out as friends and advance to a higher level, incrementally over a long period. This differs from conventional romance, where hero and heroine are onstage and attracted early and must overcome obstacles between them. In Adrian’s and Raylan’s situation, the obstacles are time, space, distance, and diversion.
All story threads finally meld in a short but intense climax. The suspense here is how and when it’s going to happen, rather than whether it’s going to happen at all. By then the characters are so well developed, and the relationships so solidly established, that the resolution makes sense and leaves readers satisfied. This is standard fare for a Nora Roberts story, but in this variation she plots a different path to take us there.