If you’ve seen or read any national news in the last year, you’ve probably heard of at least one incident where an African-American was injured or killed by white police officers, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sadly, it happens all too frequently. Sandra Kitt centers her new book on just such an event. Seldom does a book grab and hold my attention as successfully as did Close Encounters. It started off with a literal bang and continued to hold my interest with a subtle and charming exploration of a mixed-race relationship.
When Carol Taggert, an innocent bystander, is shot during a drug-bust gone bad, the NYPD closes ranks to minimize the risk of a lawsuit. Lee Grafton, the officer in charge of the botched arrest, and possibly the person who shot Carol, can’t let it go. Lee needs to see her, talk to her, and maybe figure out if she’s been as changed by the experience as he’s been. Carol doesn’t initially realize that Lee was present the night she was shot, but she’s still surprised at the attraction she feels for a white man. Because her adoptive parents are white and Carol is black, Carol has always struggled with her identity. As an adult, she has made a point of trying to discover her “black soul,” so the instant connection with Lee hits her hard.
The problems these two face are the among the most realistic and well-drawn I’ve ever read. Everything and everybody tells them they should not see each other, let alone fall in love. Lee is likely to be crucified by his superiors and the media if they find out, and Carol has to deal with her family and ex-husband, all of whom are urging her to sue.
The beauty of Close Encounters is that despite the incredible odds, and the fact they know they will end up hurt in some way, these two people persevere. And even though they don’t always agree with how others around them are reacting, they do understand their motives. When Carol’s ex, Matt, does something that is going to make major problems for Lee, Carol is angry, but knows why he did it. The strength of this novel is that the reader knows too. With the exception of one character, everyone comes through as a very real person. Lee’s partner has a pretty twisted relationship, but it works because of the way she’s written.
The pacing is just right. There’s a subplot about Carol being in danger from one of the men the police were after. As a thread running through the love story, it works very well; it never becomes the story and it isn’t just tacked on so that the author can create some tension. This isn’t your average, woman-in-jeopardy, romantic suspense. It has real depth and tension.
If you’ve seen the movie It Could Happen to You, you’ll have a good idea of what this novel feels like. In the movie, a married cop doesn’t have enough money to leave a tip for a waitress, so he promises her half if he wins the lottery. When he does win, the two find themselves falling in love. Like Carol and Lee, they are honest, nice people who don’t know how they can be together, and yet can’t conceive of a way to be apart. That’s what Close Encounters feels like when you read it. A kind of bittersweet – but very rewarding – reading experience.
If I had any problem with the story, it was that I didn’t quite understand or agree with Carol’s decision about the lawsuit. While I understood why it was possible and even prudent to act as she did, I didn’t believe it was necessary either for her own well-being or for the story. This kept it from being an unqualified success for me.
This was my first Sandra Kitt, but as you can probably guess, it won’t be my last. She surprised me in the best way. I encourage you to try Close Encounters; the characterization and plotting make it a very worthwhile read.