Shelter in Place
By Nora Roberts
Publisher: St. Martins
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Reviewed by Nancy Northcott
Shelter in Place, a standalone novel, follows a format unusual for Nora Roberts’ works in that it spans a period of 14 years. The book opens with a horrible event, a mass shooting at a mall. Teenager Simone Knox is at a movie in the mall theater with friends. Through a combination of circumstances, she survives the shooting. So does Reed Quartermaine, a college student working as a waiter at a mall restaurant.
Simone and Reed are the primary characters in the novel, but each of them has friends and/or family members who were at the mall on the fateful night. Roberts deftly examines the psychological aftereffects on others who survived the event and on those who love them. While Reed and Simone are the story’s romantic leads, they don’t actually meet until well into the book. Along the way, each finds a calling and a way to deal with the events of that fateful night. The effects of the experience on their relationships with those around them also influence the story.
Simone is closest to her grandmother, artist CiCi Lennon, who’s “a little bit psychic.” She also has a friend and family members who are fellow survivors. The family dynamics don’t go smoothly, in part because of Simone’s and her sister’s differing reactions to the event as well as their different lifestyles and tastes.
Reed also has a family, but his relationship with one of the police officers who responded to the 911 calls during the shooting plays a more prominent role in the story. She becomes a mentor to him and helps him find his path in life.
Gradually, Simone’s and Reed’s paths bring them together. The roads they travel and the factors that influence them along the way are skillfully developed, and it seems better to be somewhat vague about the particulars here than to risk spoiling them. Roberts doesn’t take us through every month of the 14 years the story covers but looks in on the characters at couple of different points during that period.
As Reed and Simone build their lives, they’re unaware that someone isn’t happy that they and so many others survived. Patricia Hobart, sister of one of the three shooters at the mall, sets out to finish the job she sees as bungled by her brother and his friends. Reed begins to suspect that someone is targeting survivors, but not everyone in law enforcement is prepared to support this theory. He has to fight for it, and that fight is part of what leads his path across Simone’s.
The last part of the book takes place on an island off the Maine coast that’s accessible only by boat. It has some echoes of two of Roberts’ prior books, Northern Lights and The Search. Considering the number of books she has written, it’s not surprising that there would be occasional similarities. These aspects of the story are similar but definitely not the same. The situations are structured differently.
This story is emotionally wrenching at times, and Simone and Reed are both engaging, sympathetic characters. (Reed gets extra points for the rescue of a stray mutt.) Those around them are largely sympathetic, but not always. The conflict between Simone and her sister, for example, is persistent and not easily resolved. Not until that resolution does her sister reveal motives that are understandable. Roberts handles the characters’ emotional issues skillfully and without going for pat solutions anywhere.