Lil and Cooper have a deep friendship rooted in childhood; when Cooper was 11 years old, his wealthy and neglectful Manhattan parents sent him to his grandparents’ – and Lil’s neighbors’ – farm in South Dakota for the summer. It was there that Lil and Cooper’s relationship was cemented over talk of baseball. Now, almost twenty years and two broken hearts later, they are slowly reconciling. With a serial killer hiding, waiting, preparing to hunt Lil, their chance for true love is as threatened as Lil’s life.
Nora Roberts crafts another page-turning thriller with Black Hills. Following the patterns of books such as Angels Fall, Divine Evil, Carolina Moon, Montana Sky and Public Secrets, Roberts delves into the mind of her seen, and sometimes unseen, assailant. The results vary between disturbing and intriguing; her exploration of a killer’s irrational thoughts makes his or her actions seem very nearly logical. In the case of Black Hills, the murderer is undoubtedly unstable, yet glimpses of an abusive childhood make him sympathetic – almost. His subsequent actions, both cowardly and monstrous, make him one of Roberts’s most depraved murderers.
Plot Overview: Love, Nature and Big Cats
Like all of Roberts’s novels, Black Hills is centered on love: love for family, for a partner, for a job and for life. Lil and Cooper, against the backdrop of the striking Black Hills, have found their roles in life, but have yet to truly reconnect with each other. Lil is in charge of a wildlife refuge, one which houses injured, ill and aged big cats. Cooper, on the other hand, is settling on his grandparents’ farm, slowly taking over and establishing a horse business. Like the cyclical nature of the wild forests that surround them, Lil and Cooper will reawaken a love that appeared to have died years ago.
Black Hills, like Roberts’s River’s End, glorifies its setting in nature. Roberts describes the Black Hills of South Dakota with clarity and reverence; the bloody events that occur appear in stark contrast to the spirituality of the environment. Yet, Roberts is quick to acknowledge the mercilessness of nature, both in the animal kingdom and with Mother Nature. It is in this acknowledgement that the big cats, especially the cougar, make their appearance. For Lil and the killer, the cougar is a divine creature, one who leads each down a path to an intense confrontation.
Criticisms and Compliments
While Roberts presents strong characters and a well-developed plot, Black Hills falls into the trap of romantic clichés. The female character is independent, but vulnerable, and her love interest is complex, heroic and powerful. However, even though Roberts might follow a cookie-cutter pattern, her novels are successful and good reads; in this case, the clichés work.
Roberts is, above all, a wonderful story teller. Her plots are exciting, her characters are realistic and sympathetic, and the various aspects of love that she explores seem genuine. Her novels are so successful because she writes what women want to read. Moreover, Roberts’s novels are comforting and hopeful; despite all odds, two people will find their matches and fall in love. And love is never a stale story.
- Roberts, Nora. Black Hills. Putnam Adult, 2009 ISBN 9780399155819