Under Currents is a return to an old formula for Nora Roberts, one in which she has deviated from in her last two hardback releases, Shelter in Place and Come Sundown. Those releases read more like straight suspense mysteries with romance as a subplot. Both were good, but they showed Nora Roberts stretching her writing muscles and stepping out of her role as master romance writer. In Come Sundown, the main story was the tragic and disturbing kidnapping of a woman who was then kept in captivity for decades while Shelter in Place examined the survivors of a mass shooting. I liked both of these books, but I haven’t been driven to return to them.
Under Currents takes place on familiar ground. Like Carolina Moon, The Witness, and Obsession, we’re in a small town filled with vibrant characters, warm family ties, and the seediness that often lies beneath the thin layer of old-fashioned values. We follow the hero, Zane Bigelow Walker, primarily. He’s our protagonist for the first 130 some pages as we live through his abusive childhood and the night that changed his family and future forever. The heroine, Darby McCray, doesn’t show up until Chapter Eight. If you read Obsession and The Witness, you’re familiar with this narrative style.
I liked this book. I don’t know if I loved it. I think it’s because I just wasn’t sure what the plot was, and I didn’t know what to expect. I think that’s good in a lot of ways — having read so many of Nora Roberts’ novels, I was expecting a central plot that was hinted at in the beginning and then given to us at the climax. This was a lot more episodic in a way that I can’t quite say I was expecting.
We spend a lot of time with teen-aged Zane, then follow Darby as she sets up her landscaping business. Then we follow their relationship for a little while. Because we start with Zane, I expected his story to drive the plot. But it doesn’t. Nothing really does. And I don’t know if I like that. I guess their romance pushes the plot but I’m not sure their romance was all that interesting.
I think this is a book that I want to reread now that I know what to expect. I liked the setting and the supporting cast. Nora Roberts has a way of constructing characters that make you want to read more about them, and that’s no different here. Zane has two nephews who are quite charming, and another author might write their story later. But alas, Nora Roberts never returns to her characters in her single titles.
This is a good book and I’m sure a lot of people will like it. But it didn’t have enough of what I go to a Nora Roberts for — there wasn’t enough conflict in the romance and there wasn’t enough suspense in the mysteries. It kind of meandered in a way that didn’t entirely satisfy me. It’s well-written, and I like Darby and Zane. It just feels…thin.