Go to Homepage   Lora Roberts: Another Fine Mess

 

Crescent Blues Book Views
When Bridget Montrose receives a letter of acceptance to the Ars Ranch, a high class writer's retreat overlooking the ocean, she greets it with relief. After her first novel made an unforeseen appearance on the bestsellers list, Bridget's editor and agent are both drooling for her next book -- a book she barely possesses the time or energy to write in the same house as her four children. Worse than that, it becomes apparent that something more sinister keeps her from bringing the novel to fruition: writer's block.

Book: Lors Roberts, another fine messOnce packed up and at the ranch, the self-doubt and fear that plagued Bridget are assuaged by a wonderful day of writing. Thirty good pages pour out of her and the story begins to take shape. The only interruptions to Bridget's work arise from her fellow artists, a varied and interesting crowd with famous author Johanna Ashbrook as the supremely flamboyant crown jewel.

The book takes the structure of a house party novel, as each night the writers gather for gourmet food and conversation. From the very first, sparks fly between the dynamic characters around the table. Johanna, once a brilliant writer, transforms into a mean drunk whose publishing house must set her up with a ghostwriter, as she can no longer write herself. Madeleine Bates, the author of a self-published novel, lacks the scruples necessary to refrain from using all the sordid details of the lives of those around her in a story for a tabloid. Several other characters round out the group, though none nearly as deliciously obnoxious as Johanna and Madeleine.

Over a scrumptious seafood risotto and more than enough wine, Johanna becomes particularly savage, insulting all those around her, leaving no paucity of likely suspects when her body washes to shore the following morning. The arrival of the police shatters Bridget's writing idyll, and it only gets worse when the lead detective takes a particular interest in Bridget's role in previous crimes. The investigation culminates in a Christie-esque round robin of confessions about more than just the murder.

Roberts' strength lies in her creation of characters. Grating, egotistical and misguided characters lend themselves to caricature, but Roberts never crosses that line. Her characters register as all the more annoying, because we have stood next to Madeleine's clone in the grocery store or found ourselves trapped in conversation with an ersatz Johanna.

Using a writer as a protagonist, Roberts also explores the exultant joys of writing long and well -- as well as the crippling anxiety of not being able to write at all -- with accuracy and humor. A likable heroine, Bridget Montrose never gets involved with other people's business to the point where the reader wants to slap her. Roberts sprinkles her clues in conversation and finishes with a grand climactic scene that gives sinister new meanings to all the book's previous conversations.

Ceridwen Lewin

Click here to share your views.