Killing Time
Grade : B+

One of my favorite of Linda Howard's books is Son of the Morning, a gripping Romantic Suspense novel with a heroine time-traveling to medieval Scotland. So I eagerly looked forward to Killing Time, which I thought was another RS novel with a time-traveling twist. Howard delivers a good mystery and provides glimpses into her view of a future world, along with a satisfying romance. The relationship between the lead couple develops within a short period of time but is nevertheless convincing, for Knox Davis and Nikita T. Stover are well-matched and each other's equal. But while I liked this book immensely, I didn't love it; the level of "spark" and emotional involvement this author provides at her absolute best wasn't quite there this time around.

In 1985 at the age of fifteen, Knox Davis was, along with fellow Pekesville citizens, witness to the solemn burial ceremony of Peke County's time capsule, which wasn't supposed to see the light of day again until 2085. A mere twenty years later, local chief investigator Knox Davis must deal with its spectacular disappearance. Soon afterwards three longtime Pekesville residents are mysteriously murdered. The murderer doesn't leave any identifiable traces behind, although the mystified police and forensics team find one victim with a five foot long spear in his back, another strangulated, and yet another cauterized.

Knox is understandably annoyed by the young woman he catches sniffling around the site of the first crime and takes her in for further inquiry. She tells him she is an FBI agent, but something undefinable about her tugs at his inner alarm. He can't pin down anything about her. Her friendly, easy smile and FBI badge seems real enough, but her obvious curiosity about his crammed office and conversational trip-ups over the most common slang arouse his suspicion and make him wonder where she might come from and whether English is her first language.

But Nikita T. Stover is indeed an FBI agent - from the year 2207. In the future, time travel is possible but strictly regulated. Nikita's assignment is to go back to 2005 to catch a renegade time-traveler and killer and to prevent the theft of the aforementioned time capsule. Nikita is highly skilled and good at blending in, but the present slang and culture clash soon blow her cover, and there's also the appealing Knox, their mutual attraction, and growing awareness of one another. However, following that path leads to nothing, for Nikita has no intention of staying in this time, particularly as her world's law forbids it.

The well-plotted mystery was intriguing. The opening murder and investigation in rural Pekesville evoke cherished memories of classic whodunits and frame the story in familiar waters. Though the villains remain disappointingly shadowy, their motivation prevent them from being flat.

Knox and Nikita's interaction is delightful and often sparks with laugh out loud humor. They are at ease with each other when they finally give in to the attraction and make love. At first I was somewhat dumbfounded to stumble across a nice guy-next-door hero in a Howard book. Knox loves being a cop and is married to his job. He mostly deals with routine police work, for rural Peke County isn't likely to provide any unusual incidents on a regular basis. Apart from the years at college, his roots firmly lie in 23,000-populated Pekesville. He is popular with his co-workers and sure of himself in a nice and laid back way and has a sneaky sense of humor. He knows about everyone and everything going on locally and would have been married for seven years to a nice local girl had tragedy not struck. I "knew" and related to Knox quickly - though as a longtime Linda Howard fan, I paused for a moment, missing Linda Howard's unabashed alpha heroes I so adore.

Nikita seems an equally open and easy-going personality on the surface. She is as professional as Knox, takes her job very seriously, and doesn't shy away a challenge. On the contrary, she relishes the difficult. She also loves learning and trying out new words - I think most booklovers can easily relate to a character for whom words are charming. After the first flighty impression, ever-observant Knox notices her reserved nature, how she is always on her toes, and holding something of herself back. Professionally she alerts his suspicion, but on the emotional level she captivates his ingrained curiosity and interest. Nikita turns out to be a less accessible, multi-layered character and only slowly opens up to Knox during their relationship. I did get to know her better and really liked her later in the book, once she lets down her ingrained guard and shares her big secret. While the author impressed me with her skill at painting a vivid picture of the protagonists in what seems to be just casual brushes, I wished I could have more of the lead characters' point of view, I longed to just hop into their head and listen to them thinking instead of mostly being told, albeit in a virtuoso way, about how they feel. In my opinion, the mere telling built up an unnecessary emotional distance between the reader and Knox and Nikita.

Fragmental glimpses of the future world are provided through reserved Nikita's eyes. Along with getting to know her better, Nikita's world also unfolds step by step. I learned of the changes in everyday life, in information organization, transportation, politics, and of the achievements in technology and science research. The depicted details are interesting, they also come across as real and plausible. The time travel aspect also serves as a plot device to jazz up the storyline and to provide the heroine with a different background and motivation. It was a pleasure reading about the future world, though I was left speculating about some minor points that in my opinion weren't completely cleared up.

Linda Howard is a tough act to live up to, even for herself. Objectively, Killing Time was a winner. The mystery was skillfully combined with likable, resonating characters and topped off with an interesting twist. But I'm spoiled by other books by this author that I've liked even better. I've no problem adding this to my Linda Howard collection, but hope for a more emotionally engaging story the next time out.

Reviewed by Ha Nguyen
Grade : B+

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : June 10, 2005

Publication Date: 2005

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