Killing Time is a book that started with a lower grade and slowly clawed its way up to a better one. It’s a story with plenty of flaws, so I was surprised how well it ultimately came together in the end, well enough that I can recommend it, albeit with reservations.
The book doesn’t get off to the strongest of starts. It opens with small town realtor Mick Winchester being held at gunpoint in his office. His assailant is Louise Flanagan, a girl who used to be picked on when they were in high school. Mick was one of the few people who defended her, so now she wants to help him out. It seems that Mick has quite the reputation as a ladies man. Now a TV crew is coming in from Hollywood to film a reality show in their small Illinois town. Concerned that Mick will be further corrupted by these loose Hollywood women, Louise wants him to take his clothes off so that her daddy can catch them in a compromising position, forcing them into a shotgun wedding. Thus, Mick will be safely off the market in Louise’s arms. Right off the bat, the author lets us know that this is one of those small towns filled with cartoons and stereotypes.
Things don’t improve much when the Hollywood types enter the scene. Naturally, they are just as stereotypical. The show’s director is a prima donna, the host is a flamboyant prig, the contestants are all greedy fameseekers, etc. The exception is producer Caroline Lamb, who happens to be Mick’s college girlfriend. They broke up years before when Caro was determined to go to L.A. to seek her fortune while Mick wanted to return to his small hometown. Naturally the attraction between them is still there, and when they find themselves sharing quarters, they soon fall back into bed together. The only question is whether they can overcome their differences to make it last this time.
Kelly’s writing is lively and engaging, which is the main thing that carried me past the over-the-top antics of the too-corny-to-be-believed locals. This book is apparently a spinoff of some of the author’s earlier series titles, and the only people who don’t act like complete goons are the couples I suspect came from those books. There are some funny moments and good lines, but there are also some really lame and forced scenes as well. There were also times when Mick and Caro’s banter was more juvenile than sexy. I would have believed some of their behavior more if they’d still been in college than nearly a decade out of it.
The reality show premise is somewhat far-fetched. The show is called Killing Time in a Small Town, a murder mystery that the contestants have to solve while avoiding being killed off themselves. Caro goes on and on about how unique the premise is, except it’s not. Knowledgeable TV viewers will remember there was already a show with this exact same premise called Murder in Small Town X that aired in 2001 and flopped. (There’s another similarity between the real show and the fictitious one I can’t mention to avoid spoilers.) I’d like to think the author is doing an homage to that show, except that it makes Caro seem like she’s full of crap when she says the show’s so original and going to be a hit.
There’s also a romantic subplot that’s somewhat underwhelming, mostly because the heroine’s character is underdeveloped and the hero’s isn’t at all. He’s simply perfect in every way. Apparently they will be the main couple in the author’s upcoming Harlequin Temptation, so they’ll likely be better developed there.
Up until the middle, my grade for this book would have been a C. It had its good points, it had its bad ones. It was a decent read, but mostly it was average. So it was somewhat unexpected that I found it growing on me the more it went on. The romance improves once it moves past the I want you/I hate you early scenes and the characters start to talk and connect in a more believable way. The plot that seemed to be somewhat meandering begins to click. The finale of the reality show is well done (even if it might have been better had Kelly not tipped the fictional killer’s identity long before one of the characters figured it out). A real life mystery crops up (which happens so late I would consider it a spoiler, except it’s not all that unexpected and the back cover reveals it). As a result, the story comes together better than I’d anticipated, and some of the groundwork Kelly subtly laid out earlier pays off nicely. While one detail seems somewhat far-fetched, the solution is unexpected and well done. Best of all, the kooky small-town characters mostly fade into the background in the second half. I didn’t miss them one bit.
Ultimately, Killing Time finishes so strongly I’m giving it a marginal recommendation. Readers more tolerant of the small town clichés, as well as those who can wait out the weaker earlier chapters to get to the stronger later ones, may find it worth a read. It could have been better developed all around, but Kelly tells a high energy story and delivers a satisfying read in the end.