I just bought a double feature Nora Roberts book. Storm Warning is the first, which was first published in 1992. It’s about Autumn, a young woman who lived through a hot and heavy relationship that ended abruptly and very ugly. So she threw herself into her work as a photographer and 3,5 years later she feels like she’s over it. So when her aunt writes to come and visit her at her hotel, she agrees it’s time for a holiday. But when she gets there, she runs into the last man she’d expect: Lucas, the very man who broke her heart.
As Autumn fights her attraction to Lucas, bad things happen in the hotel. One of the guests is murdered during a storm that’s keeping them locked on the little island where the hotel is located – and police can’t reach them. So the ragtag group of hotel guests needs to figure out what’s happening for themselves. It’s revealed that the woman who was murdered was actually blackmailing all of the other guests (a movie star, an aspiring politician, a doctor and his wife, a movie director and Lucas as well – the movie people were there because they wanted to convince Lucas to sell one of his books to them so they could turn it into a movie). Turns out that she pushed a little too hard and the aspiring politician killed him. Autumn finds this out when he says he’s going to kill her if she doesn’t give him the photos she’s taken.
A few days earlier, the blackmailer and the politician had gone walking by the nearby lake, while Autumn was out taking nature pictures. It’s very possible that they are on her photos, and the politician wants them back so nobody can suspect it was him. Autumn barely manages to get away, jumping into the lake to escape him (as he had told them earlier he couldn’t swim). But she nearly drowns in the ice-cold water and is saved only just in the nick of time by Lucas. She’s ill for a while, but when she wakes up, she and Lucas finally have a talk. Lucas tells her that he pushed her away and broke things off because she was too nice (really? Worst excuse ever!) and he was scared of how much she meant to him. He came to the hotel and subtly suggested to her aunt to invite her so they could reunite. Throughout the weekend, he tried to get close to her but when she rebuffed him and closed off her heart he got angry. He even almost forced himself on her one evening, only stopped by her tears. And then Autumn is like, oh yes, I love you too, I will marry you.
As you can probably already tell by my description, I didn’t like the book. It was on the one hand much too Cluedo for me, and on the other hand total bullshit. A group of people in a house, who are all connected in some way that’s unclear to the main character. One night, during a storm, one of them die. What follows is the main character trying to figure out who did it, while suspecting everybody at one point. Oh, and because of the storm, the landlines are out (is there no cell reception?) and the roads that lead to the village are blocked because the bridges are under water. What a coincidence! And during the entire “whodunit”, Autumn’s aunt and her employee are just absent – they are never suspected (which is understandable since Autumn is the main character and she isn’t going to suspect the two people closest to her) but they are also left out of the story mostly. I mean, it’s her aunt for crying out loud! But she hardly concerns herself with Autumn (who discovers the dead body and is knocked unconscious when the murderer is trying to get rid of evidence), choosing to disappear all the time. So that was one thing that I didn’t like: the overly cliché setting and the conspicuously absent aunt.
Secondly, I also detested their relationship. When Lucas and Autumn met all those years ago, they had a very unequal relationship: he was the big shot writer and she was the photographer starting out who was contracted to take his picture. She fell head over heels for him and would come over to his house every Wednesday to cook for him and then they would eat together. He was arrogant, grumpy and selfish and she was basically doing all of the work. Until one Wednesday that she came over and he was sitting in his tux, waiting to leave for a date with someone else (as he told her). So what did she do? She stood there, tears rolling down her cheeks, and asked him if he was breaking up with her. He acted like a jerk and told her it was never really a relationship and that she was being childish. And now, 3,5 years later, he is still mean, grumpy and selfish. He corners her, gets angry at her, yells at her, kisses her forcefully, almost rapes her, is constantly mean and yelling, and doesn’t respect her wishes at any point. He constantly hides how he feels behind a mask, but he gives her one or two hurt looks. And so at the end, he tells her how he misses her, how he got scared of his feelings and was unable to admit (even to himself) that he loved her, that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. And then she’s like, okay, let’s get married. I did not understand that at all! He treats you like shit, he’s constantly mean and angry, he doesn’t value you and doesn’t respect your wishes – but he’s your first (and only) love (and sexual partner) and he tells you once that he loves you and that’s enough?
But, there’s another but. This book was published in the early nineties, so maybe it wasn’t so cliché back then? And maybe those kind of relationships were more normal then? (probably even now, I mean, just look at the fucked-up Fifty Shades relationship) So I can forgive Nora for some of it. Still, not one of her better books. I have read quite a number of Nora Roberts’ books, and especially the more recent ones are so much better. So I’m not giving up on her! I’ll just have to remember to favour her more recent books.