Small Town Murder, Big Time Author – “Carnal Innocence” by Nora Roberts
Really, I shouldn’t classify this as a “romance novel,” but since I decided to read it largely due to the disappointment that was Ms. Roberts’ “Spellbound,” I don’t think anyone will judge me too harshly.
“Carnal Innocence” is the story of a small town called Innocence. Two women have already been brutally murdered when big-time violinist Caroline comes home to rest and recuperate at her Grandmother’s house. Soon, she’s caught the eye of a local big-shot named Tucker Longstreet. The Longstreets are Innnocence’s wealthiest family, and Tucker appears to be all lazy good ol’ boy. When a local girl (Edda Lou) accuses Tucker of getting her pregnant, then shows up murdered in the same way as the previous two women, the FBI arrives, suspicions are aroused, and the whole town goes on alert for a serial killer. In addition, Edda Lou’s religious nut father is chasing Tucker with a shotgun, the good ol’ boys in town get it in their heads that an African-American man in town committed the crimes and want to lynch him, Caroline overcomes her demons and learns to love (both Tucker and a puppy!), and the killer isn’t who you think it’s going to be.
Whew. It’s a heck of a read.
Roberts paints a nice, if idealistic, portrait of small-town life. I wanted to move to Innocence, honestly. Every time someone gets hurt, it seems the whole town shows up at their door and begins cooking all the food in the world. (I’d like to go back and count how many times the word “iced tea” appears.) The characters are vivid and you can instantly picture them all in your head. From the nice-guy Sheriff everyone knows to the wacky great-aunt of the Longstreets, the characters are all likable and somehow familiar. Am I saying they’re cliches? Yes, but Ms. Roberts works her special brand of magic to make them all pop.
Sure, a good fifty pages could probably be shaved off, and it’d be nice to hear a few less times how awesome Tucker Longstreet is, but whatever. “Carnal Innocence” is a lot of fun to read. It’s like watching a backwoods episode of “Law and Order,” with some extra sexiness and some backwoods charm. I enjoyed it – even if I would run it past an editor one more time.
(And I’ve forgiven Ms. Roberts for the atrocity that was “Spellbound.”)