I was prepared to give Black Hills a relatively glowing review as I was working my way through the 472 page book. And then I came to the last 15 pages and I had some big problems with the handling of the narrative. So here I am, questioning things which I had previously been quite happy with. But let’s start at the beginning.
Nora Robert’s Black Hills is the story of Cooper Sullivan and Lillian Chance. The book begins when they are 11 and 9 years of age respectively. Lil is a native of the titular Black Hills and Coop has been sent to his grandparents’ South Dakota ranch by his battling parents for the summer. Over time Coop and Lil form a deep and lasting friendship. As chapters progress we jump ahead with the characters as they grow up and Coop returns to the Black Hills from his turbulent home in New York for summer vacations.
Relationships change as Lil gets ready to head off to college. She knows two things for sure – what she wants for her future, a wildlife refuge on her family’s land, and Coop. The conflict is Coop knows that he cannot stay with Lil as their relationship progresses in the next 18 months because he will hold her back from her goals and he must make a way for himself. Fast forward 12 years and our leads have a new set of problems to deal with, including each other.
This is all pretty standard fare, especially for a Roberts novel. Where I began to have some unease was with the story’s big bad. Roberts has a set way of introducing the type of big bad which appears in this one, The Search, and Montana Sky. The reader is given a chance to see the world through their point of view before they are introduced to the protagonists, and then their nefarious deeds and plans are told to the reader through the character’s own first person planning. Other than the familiarity of the type of big bad (someone out to hunt our female protagonist) I had no real problems. Until it was time to resolve the conflicts.
There are two major conflicts in the book: first, the standard ‘will they or won’t they?’ and the second ‘will the big bad be able to enact his plan?’ The novel is well paced throughout, the reader has time to invest in who Lil and Coop were as children, how their relationship evolved, her parents, his grandparents, their friends, the preserve, and the looming danger. And then it seems Roberts looked down and realized she had written over 400 pages and hadn’t resolved either major conflict. There is a major sea change with at page 427 and then it’s a downhill run to the conclusion some 45 pages later. This reader was left wanting for more, since so many storylines had been given a quick, glossed over ending as the protagonists dealt with the big bad.
As for the conclusion, big bad is dispatched and two pages later the book was over. Roberts doesn’t tend to write epilogues for her novels, but isn’t unheard of. This one was in definite need of an epilogue that firmly wrapped up some storylines after the final conflict resolution to give at least this reader a sense of completion. Am I saying don’t read it? No, but I am saying that you should know what you’re getting in to with this one.