Janice Kay Johnson writes exactly the type of category romances I like to read. She concentrates on family and everyday problems. Her books are not high in tension, but they are solidly packed with emotion. Her characters seem real, as do their problems. She also writes clearly, her dialogue is lifelike, and she never switches point of view. Having read three books by her – three books that I liked very much – I feel I can trust her as an author who will deliver a good story. Johnson is one of my biggest finds of the past year.
Officer Nell Granstrom pulled herself up by her bootstraps and made something of herself. She got pregnant at age sixteen, just like her own mother, and has worked hard to get to the point she’s at now. She enjoys her job with the Port Dare police department, and she is in the process of renovating a charming older home. Her biggest worry is for her own daughter, Kim, now also sixteen and spending a great deal of time with her boyfriend Colin. Nell remembers very clearly the emotions that are driving her daughter towards sex. She’s afraid of what might happen if her daughter doesn’t make the right decision, but she can’t do what she’d like to do: keep Kim away from Colin and any other horny teenage boys.
When her partner moves away, Nell is reassigned to work with Hugh McLean, an officer who she is both drawn to (for his sexy body and killer face) and repelled by (for his sexist attitude and brusque manner). Their first day together Hugh and Nell are thrown into the worst crime situation Port Dare has ever known. A heavily armed man walks into the Joplin Building, makes his way up to the offices of the Greater Northwest Insurance, and opens fire on anyone in his path. It’s a complete bloodbath, and a chaotic nightmare. When the terrible day is over, Hugh and Nell drink themselves into a stupor and one thing leads to another. Nell wakes up naked and hungover in the back of Hugh’s Explorer.
Nell is horrified at what she has done. She has been so determined to set a good example for her daughter, and now look what’s happened. She had sex with a man she doesn’t even like; a man she has to work with on a daily basis. Ashamed of herself, she hopes to heaven Kim will never discover what she did. And then Nell finds out she’s pregnant, and a whole new set of problems arise.
Nell is a worrier. She obsesses a fair amount about her daughter’s sex life, but this is all because of her own experience. She’s lived her mistakes, and she wants something better for her daughter. The mother-daughter talks she has with Kim about sex bear little resemblance to the talks my mother had with me, but given Nell’s background and seeming lack of strong religious beliefs, that’s understandable. Nell is always willing to be open and honest with her daughter, even when it is embarrassing or distressing. Their communication was very good.
Hugh is very likable. He isn’t as sexist as Nell assumes in the beginning of their partnership, though he becomes more protective of Nell as the story progresses. The mass murder case they are working on is all the more painful because of his background: His father was killed in a post office shoot out years ago, and his mother has never gotten over it. That crime was also the impetus for all three McLean brothers to join the force. As the case drags on, it becomes clear to Hugh that there were two shooters in the Joplin Building that day, an opinion that his superior officers are unwilling to accept. Hugh is driven to solve the crime, partly because he wants to make things better for his mother. The two cases are unrelated, but the McLeans all feel the similarities. Johnson does a wonderful job weaving the crime story into the love story. They were both very interesting, and the pace of the book never lagged.
Hugh and Nell are good together. Hugh is a straight arrow, the rare sort of man who’s willing to shoulder his responsibilities even when they are undesired. His commitment to Nell as well as his patience with her insecurities make him first rate hero material. When Nell’s fears and insecurities get the better of her, he is willing to listen, wait it out, and basically do whatever he needs to in order to make things work between them. In contrast, Nell seems to want to sabotage their relationship, rather than take a chance on expressing her feelings. She is so unsure of her ability to attract and inspire love that she jumps to some unfortunate conclusions. Her fretting did get a little tedious after a while.
Maternal Instinct was a very solid read. Johnson does a great job showing the dilemmas and rewards of family life. I finished this book with a smile on my face. I would very much like to see what this author could do with a single title contemporary. It’s a shame she’s not better known. If you haven’t tried series romance by Janice Kay Johnson, I urge you to do so. Her books are excellent examples of what is right with the short format contemporary romance.