Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Small Screen Reads: Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts

Where Meredith reviews books and the 
made for TV movies they have been adapted into.

The BookReena Hale craves the fire. It calls to her and has followed her for her entire life, ever since her family’s restaurant burned in a blaze when she was a child. Now, decades later, Reena is an arson investigator. When a string of threatening phone calls and suspicious fires cross her path, Reena is pulled into a life or death game of cat and mouse. While this is occurring, she also finds herself falling for the handsome carpenter next door. Reena must unravel the mystery of a long standing grudge before anyone else she cares about succumbs to the fire. I’ve never had the inclination to read a Nora Roberts book before, so this was a new experience for me. Honestly, I get the appeal. Blue Smoke was plotty and fast-paced and kept me entertained during a four hour flight to Phoenix. I understand why they sell them in airport shops.

The MovieBlue Smoke the book, at 400 plus pages, is actually kind of long, so the movie was forced to condense a lot of the plot. They truncated Reena’s early life which is a significant chunk of the beginning of the book and this is done to the detriment of the story. As it turns out, the man setting fires and harassing Reena has actually been stalking her since childhood. He’s convinced she’s the reason his father went to prison (for starting that first fire at the family restaurant) and as revenge, he’s determined to bring tragedy down upon her at every turn. So by reducing the amount of set up, it kills some of the suspense. Blue Smoke aired in 2007 on Lifetime as part of an eight movie series of Nora Roberts’ adaptations. It stars Alicia Witt, who I have an absolute fondness for thanks to her multiple starring roles in a number of Hallmark Christmas movies, as Reena Hale.

Left on the Cutting Room Floor – This book was actually pretty violent. The antagonist commits a number of gruesome murders and even rapes a woman repeatedly before setting her on fire (while she’s still alive). I was surprised that Nora Roberts went there. I hear her name and I immediately associate it with Debbie Macomber or Fern Michaels. That was an incorrect assumption. The movie reduces the body count and opts out of depicting any sort of graphic violence against women which is probably for the best.

Adapted for the Silver Screen – Certain chapters are told from the disembodied narration of the killer while he stalks Reena and kills the people she loves. The movie chooses to adapt this by shooting first person video and dubbing some gravely, heavy breathing voice over on top of it. The results are…less than effective. It ends up looking clunky and ridiculous while the actors smile widely as they talk to an unsteady hand camera, instead of being menacing.

Book/Movie/Both/Neither – If you find yourself stuck in jury duty or a doctor’s office waiting room, this is the kind of book you’d want to have with you. As much as I like Alicia Witt, I can’t recommend this as something entertaining to watch. I think because of the reduced backstory shown in the movie, Reena’s character lacks some of the depth and darkness that haunts her into her adulthood, which in turn, makes the ending less dramatic.


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