Murder and romance in small-town Alaska

With over 225 novels to her credit, Nora Roberts is a bestseller by any definition. Wikipedia says the books are all romance novels, so I’m not sure if that number includes the 47 mysteries in the In Death series. These sit on the light end of being science fiction and are clearly police procedurals, though it is also clear that a major part of the 10 audiobooks I have listened to (great for highway listening) is always the evolving relationship between Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her husband, Roarke, the son of Irish mobsters who has gone legit, but still has connections.

She issues these under the pseudonym J.D. Robb, one of several she uses, along with Jill March (in the U.S.) and Sarah Hardesty (in the UK).

Northern Lights, first issued in 2004, is in the style she uses for the Robb books, a mystery with more than a touch of romance embedded in the story.

The main plot, however, has transplanted Baltimore homicide Detective Ignatious (Nate) Burke relocating to an isolated Alaska town called Lunacy, there to become the chief of police. He lost a partner on a case back home, and his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) also cost him his marriage. He’s not sure he’s up to this job and this place, but he needed to get away.

The book begins with a 1988 journal entry left in a mountain cave by a member of an expedition who didn’t make it home. Fifteen years later, the true story of what happened to those three men, and who the survivor was, creates some problems in the here and now.

Until he can find a place of his own, after a probation period, Nate is quartered in The Lodge, where the owner, a blonde bombshell named Charlene Hidel, keeps offering him way more than room and board. He doesn’t take her up on the offer.

Her daughter is a bush pilot named Meg Galloway, the last name courtesy of the father who deserted them 16 years earlier. Given her personal background, she has little use for males, except as occasional recreational sex partners.

The mayor of the town is a feisty lady named Anastasia Hopp, who is anxious for this experiment in law and order to work, and is very supportive of her new sheriff.

Nate hates to fly, especially in small planes, but when some high school boys, out on a dangerous climb of their own, need to be found on that same mountain, an aerial search is the only way to go, and Meg is the best pilot for the job.

This leads to the discovery of the body and the journal that we keep getting snatches of text from along the way. The condition of the body, which turns out to be Meg’s father, means that particular death was no accident, and digging into the facts in this very cold case drives the rest of the mystery part of the book.

The other parts of the novel are of the “stranger in a strange land” variety, with Nate meeting people and adjusting to life in this odd little town.

The third part is the romance, including a fair amount of lively lovemaking. I’m sure you figured that out a few paragraphs back.

Overall, a lot of this book is about a number of interesting people rebuilding their lives and finding personal redemption. There are some cliché characters and situations in the story, but it is engaging and it leaves you with a good feeling.

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