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Black Hills    by Nora Roberts order for
Black Hills
by Nora Roberts
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2009 (2009)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

New York City rich kid Cooper Sullivan isn't impressed when he's forced to spend the summer at his grandparents' South Dakota farm while his parents jet off to France to try and save their marriage. He hates the fact that there's no TV, no video games, no fast food deliveries, and worst of all no access to his beloved baseball team, the Yankees. Even worse, the only kid within miles is a girl! But it doesn't take Coop long to warm up to tomboy Lil Chance, especially after discovering that her dad's built her her very own batting cage and that she's better at the game than he is. Cooper also learns that she has an unshakeable love for the land and the creatures that roam the vast South Dakota plains. Over the course of that first summer, they are inseparable and as they spend consecutive summers together, they fall in love.

Lil pursues her dream of traveling the world studying wildlife, and eventually establishes a special wildlife sanctuary. Coop, on the other hand, gives in to his father's demand that he go into law and join the family firm. When he realises he's made a poor choice, he enrolls in the police force and eventually goes private. Twelve years later Lil and Cooper come full circle. She's home for good to oversee and expand her sanctuary and Coop's back at his grandparents' farm to help run things after his grandfather's accident. But time and distance have fractured their love. Lil can't forgive Coop for his ten year silence while he assumes she's still engaged to the French scientist his grandparents had mentioned. Both are determined to keep their distance. But when small pranks around the sanctuary turn into heartless cruelty and then murder, Coop can't stay away. He'll do what needs to be done to stop a killer who's singled out Lil as his next prey.

Roberts is back in fine form here and delivers another of her signature romantic suspense tales that features great plotting and two very likeable leads in Lil and Cooper. Their childhood love story leans toward predictable and saccharine at times, but Roberts deftly injects a darker element and jumps ahead a decade at just the right moment. Equally entertaining is the large cast of supporting players and a touching secondary romance, all set against the wonderfully rich backdrop of South Dakota. Let's not forget the various four legged critters (most of whom Lil saves from abusive situations) that find refuge and love in her wildlife sanctuary. Add to that a nicely paced mystery and a chilling villain and you may well find yourself seeking out a quiet corner somewhere so that you can read Black Hills in a single sitting.

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