Shelter in Place review: Teaspoon romance

Nora Roberts has penned fiction under many pseudonyms. Plain Mills-and-Boon kind of romances, suspense novels, pop sci-fi and short stories are all part of her repertoire. A number of these have appeared on various bestseller lists over the years and some have been made into television movies as well. In 2007, Time magazine listed her among their Top 100 Influential People for her body of work in which she has “inspected, dissected, deconstructed, explored, explained and extolled the passions of the human heart.” And that is evident in her latest work, Shelter in Place.

If you like to figure out the identity of the killer in a thriller murder mystery by being a Sherlock Holmes, then this work of fiction is not for you. The murderer is revealed fairly early on in the story. One survivor-turned-cop realises it too and the rest of the story is a cat-and-mouse game between the two. And what an adrenalin rush it gives!

Eight minutes on a balmy July day leave a lifelong impact on the people who happen to be in DownEast Mall in Portland, Maine. That’s when a group of young deluded shooters randomly slaughter shoppers, moviegoers and employees in the mall. It’s total carnage and leads to mayhem. Teenager Simone Knox, who leaves her best friends in the cineplex in the mall to visit the restroom, returns to find them shot with one of them dead and the other seriously injured. Keeping her wits about her, she dials 911 while hiding in the bathroom, which sends Officer Essie McVee racing to the mall. She manages to take down the shooters. However, by then many lives are lost and people wounded, some with permanent injuries. Reed Quartermaine, who waits tables at a restaurant in the mall, manages to save a little boy and dial 911. The town is shell-shocked.

Ten years down the line, the survivors still carry psychological and emotional baggage resulting from the massacre. “No acquisition of guilt … can in the least balance the evil of that horror and anxiety which, in their room, guilt introduces into our bosoms”: Henry Fielding. The guilt at having lived plagues the survivors, especially Simone. The killings create emotional fences and drive families apart, distort relationships, and separate friends. Many move away from Portland to put the terrible incident in the past. In order to heal and leave the harrowing memories behind and start afresh. Simone seeks refuge in art and sculpture which proves to be therapeutic for her. Reed, inspired by Essie McVee, becomes a cop like her with the incident creating a strong bond between them and making them close as family.

All this while, while the survivors try and recuperate and battle the demons in their mind, the real killer is still at large plotting annihilation of people with connections, however tenuous, with the original executions and biding time. The killings start again. At random diverse places. With different methods. What is common to all these murders is the link of the victims with the DownEast Mall massacre. Reed, with his honed instinct, suspects the connection but is unable to prove it to FBI till he is almost killed by the mastermind behind the original slaughter and the ongoing ones. The perpetrator always manages to complete the planned execution but Reed escapes, rattling the killer, and is naturally the prime target for the hit-list. To get some rest post the attack and the ensuing surgery, Reed moves as the Chief of Police to Tranquility Island where Simone also lives now with her nonconformist bohemian painter-grandmother CiCi.

The rest of the bite-my-nails thriller is a Catch Me If You Can operation between the good cop and the bad killer with each taking turns at being one step ahead of the other and cocking a snook at each other at various times. It is bound to encourage the reader to keep turning the pages and not turn off the lights at night before they reach the last page.

Nora Roberts apparently did not write as a child except for the usual school essays but claims to have told some really good lies to her mother which she still believes! That shows in this tale where the fictional characters come alive for the reader. They are people who one might meet on the streets. Her etching them out makes them almost real. They grow and change with the narrative. The plot is extremely topical as well, especially in the United States, where mass shootings occur at the unlikeliest of places. Shelter in Place should be gifted to politicians in the US, especially those who favour owning of guns by all and sundry. The chilling graphic violence might help change their minds. The pop of the bullets, the screams of the victims amidst the sound of the video games and the elevator music playing in the mall, the demented laughter of the killers: all almost bring to life the scene of the carnage.

Yes, there is romance. Between Reed and Simone. But that forms a minuscule part of the story. So this cannot be called a romantic thriller; rather, a psychological thriller with a garnish of romance.

Worth your bucks!

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Shelter in Place review: Teaspoon romance

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