“HOT ROCKS” AND “BIG JACK”
The book “Remember When,” originally published in 2003, is listed as a work by Nora Roberts. It actually contains two novellas, whose titles are fonts of great originality: Part One and Part Two. Part One is written by Nora Roberts and contains a romantic suspense that takes place in 2003. Part Two of the omnibus picks up the story fifty-six years later, in 2059, as a novella written by Roberts using her pseudonym, J. D. Robb. Robb takes the conclusion of Part One and has its consequences fall upon the lives and jobs of Eve Dallas and Roarke, the main protagonists of Robb’s In Death series.
And then, in 2010, Roberts/Robb’s publisher separated “Remember When” into two independently published stories. When separated, Part One became “Hot Rocks,” published under the author Nora Roberts; Part Two became “Big Jack,” published under the author J. D. Robb. And suddenly, confusion reigned in reader-land, a confusion that still exists today.
The first level of confusion is the construction of “Remember When” itself. Part One can be read by anyone who enjoys contemporary romantic suspense at any time they choose. It is complete, in and of itself. However, the same cannot be said for Part Two. The events in that part fall almost in the middle of Robb’s well-established In Death series. In fact, it falls chronologically, in storyline, right after Robb’s seventeenth book, “Imitation in Death,” as it picks up barely a day after Peabody makes detective. Thus, a great deal of backstory and character inter-dynamics are already in play and they are essential to understanding events that occur within this plotline. To read Part Two independently would likely be a mistake.
The second level of confusion occurs when a reader likes one of the author’s pseudonyms better than the other, or really doesn’t care for one of them at all. For instance, I am not a heavy reader of Nora Roberts’ books, not like I am with her J. D. Robb pseudonym. However, whether I like Nora Roberts or not, Part One contains the entire circumstances that lead to Part Two. So, if you don’t read Nora Roberts’ part of the omnibus, you will not understand the intimate connection of the murderer in Part Two to the original crime in Part One. Nor will you truly understand the correlation Robb makes, in Part Two, between Eve and the murderer in regards to Eve’s ongoing question of nature versus nurture, genetics versus choice. In other words, Part Two is not the place to start if you have never read J. D. Robb before.
Finally, a third level of confusion exists that has nothing to do with storylines and everything to do with publisher misrepresentation and with poor personal responsibility. When the omnibus was split into two separate stories, that omnibus was not taken off the market nor was there clear truth-in-advertising about the two stories not being new products. Hence, readers with poor tracking systems for documenting what they have or have not read have become and still do become incensed when they purchase “Hot Rocks” and “Big Jack,” only to realize that they have already read both when they read “Remember When.” And the usual outcome of that realization is that the reader angrily gives one or all three of the books a one-star review, while still saying how great they are, instead of taking responsibility for their own decision to buy a book they have already read.
Now, the set-up for Nora Roberts’ Part One:
By the age of ten, Elaine O’Hara was already an accomplished pickpocket and a well-trained beard for her con-man father, Big Jack O’Hara. Realizing that Elaine was on the same path to prison as her husband, her mother divorces Big Jack and flees. It takes years, but Elaine’s mother finally gets their lives straight.
Elaine, now legally known as Laine Tavish, is the owner of an antique shop called “Remember When,” Laine likes what she does, likes where she lives and doesn’t want her friends in her new small hometown of Angel’s Gap to know who she used to be.
As you can imagine, this whole new-start idea falls apart. And it begins unraveling when her father’s best friend of thirty years visits her at the shop and is immediately killed when he steps out the door, dying in Laine’s arms. Enter Max Gannon, an adept PI from New York. It seems that Big Jack and his friend helped steal $28M in diamonds, and the company that insured those gems, to recover them, has retained Max. When Max’s background investigation on Laine Tavish turns up the facts of her parentage, the story really takes off.
At first glance, this set-up is superficially formulaic, based on the idea of “I’ve-Got-A-Secret-And-My-Life-Will-Be-Over-If-It’s-Found-Out.” But under that well-worn and oft-used premise lies a tense thriller and an engaging romance. And it comes without the incessant whining and the hair shirt that many authors believe must accompany such a plot line.
It also comes written in third person and primarily from the viewpoint of Laine, although quite a few scenes are told from Max’s standpoint. To ratchet up the tension, we are also given glimpses into the thoughts and actions of Big Jack O’Hara, Laine’s fugitive thief of a father. And then Roberts slips in a few snippets from the standpoint of Alex Crew, the psychopathic homicidal thief who sets all the events of the novella in motion. And believe me, these bare snippets into Alex Crew’s thoughts are all we need to fuel our fears and ratchet that level of tension right through the roof.
At over 220 pages, this “novella” is of sufficient length to make virtually all the fine points and literary devices believable. The main characters are fleshed out and well grounded, mature and realistic in both speech and action. And the action rarely flags. While there is no cliffhanger at the end and an HEA is clearly in the picture, a few loose ends remain – and Nora Roberts meant it to be that way. Let’s just say that Roberts’ alter ego, J. D. Robb, is very interested in those loose ends.
So, now we enter J. D. Robb’s Part Two:
Fifty-six years after the diamond heist, one-fourth of the “hot rocks” have never been recovered. Samantha Gannon, the granddaughter of Laine Tavish and Max Gannon, writes a book about the heist, called, confusingly, “Hot Rocks.” Shortly after its publication, it becomes a “hot ticket,” and Samantha goes on tour all over the U.S. The day she returns from that tour, she finds her house sitter with her throat slit. The next day, her maid is found immolated in a vacant lot. Someone apparently thinks Samantha knows a whole lot more about the missing diamonds than she has published in the book.
Eve Dallas is the primary on the house sitter’s murder while Baxter is the primary for the maid. When they make the connection between the victims and then the book, the hunt for a human connection to one of the original thieves is mounted. And the hunt is conducted by all our regular In Death characters – Eve, Roarke, Peabody, McNab, Feeney, Baxter and Trueheart.
As I said earlier, I am not a heavy reader of Nora Roberts’ books, not like I am with J. D. Robb’s works. But reading this particular crossover package was not only intriguing, it was necessary for me to continue the In Death series with the best understanding.
However, I did have one problem with the writing style. It appears that the two parts were written back-to-back and that it took the author a bit of time to get out of the “Nora Roberts” mode of Part One and into the persona of J. D. Robb for Part Two. But once the transition was made, the 287-page long novella called Part Two was just as strong an entry for the In Death series as any standalone book with those two words in its title.
Cover Art from Goodreads