Come Sundown is a romance with a jolt of mystery and suspense from the reigning queen of the genre Nora Roberts. I have a fondness for Roberts that goes back to the creaky dial-up days of AOL message boards where she was a reader as well as a writer for Silhouette Romance and the many conversations we had on those boards. Back then, she was bending the genre with her sex positive heroines and men whose masculinity was not threatened by female strength. Thanks in large part to her influence along with a few others, the genre has shifted from the virginal women frightened by male sexuality who fall in love with  abusive, angry men who hate/love/hate them, frequently molesting them because they are so in lust until somewhere near the end they all admit their undying love for each other – you know the type.

If someone tried that guilt and shame ritual combined with forcing their tongue down one of Roberts’ heroines, she would have kicked them where it counts. And so it is with Bodine Longbow, the central heroine in Come Sundown who is open to love, but not to control or over-protective chivalry.  She works with two other competent, smart, pretty, and single women, Vanessa and Chelsea. That’s handy because she has two brothers, Chase and Rory and then there’s Callen Skinner, the main love interest, her brother’s best friend whose moved back to Montana and is working on the ranch. She’s even his boss and he has no problem taking orders from her and does not feel the least bit compromised as a man. Now toss in her father, her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, a legacy of female strength and strong family ties  based on love and respect. Interesting people who are not dysfunctional can make good stories.

There’s a complication. There always is. It starts on the first place, twenty-six years before our story begins when Alice Bodine is heading home for Thanksgiving and is kidnapped and kept prisoner, raped, abused, and indoctrinated by a twisted man called Sir, a sovereign citizen type with Oathkeeper ideas about women’s role in the family, and a heavy dose of misogyny. We follow some of her story – more than anyone could want, though, let’s face it, this happens to women. Most of them do not get a second chapter, but Alice does.

There’s a second complication, two women have been murdered and it happened not long after Callen’s return. Everyone with sense knows he is not involved but “with sense” is an important qualification.

I enjoyed Come Sundown quite a bit. It is exactly what a reader expects from Nora Roberts, a blend of romance, mystery, humor, and the pleasure of genuinely nice, happy people, for the most part. If you don’t smile a few times reading one of her books, there’s something ailing you.

The Alice Bodine storyline is such a contrast to the healthy, happy story that is the main part of the book. I wish Roberts had not made her a runaway, but it is a way to explain why they didn’t keep searching for her. Again and again, people say in the story she did not deserve what happened, but the unspoken reality underneath it all is that if she had not run away, they would have known something was seriously wrong. Rebellion is punished. That’s a trope Roberts usually avoids.

Come Sundown is a good book from an author I enjoy. I value Nora Roberts very much. Growing up, my best friend’s mother was an avid romance reader. She had every Barbara Cartland and I read them all. I read the fall-in-love-with-your-rapist Woodiwiss books and Diana Palmer’s hate you-hate you-love you books. Roberts was a breath of fresh air. She was not dogmatic; she used humor and wit to push a feminist viewpoint, a sex-positive viewpoint, one that had no room for slut-shaming and toxic masculinity. She was not surfing the zeitgeist then, she was turning it – a cultural change agent. We have a long ways to go, but popular, beloved, and wildly successful writers like Roberts who write stories of healthy relationships with strong men and women who are equals are going to help us get there.

Come Sundown will be released on June 6th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.