Stealing Time is definitely not a romance novel, although the main character, April Woo, has a very interesting entanglement going on with her former partner, Mike Sanchez. This book is a compelling and gritty police procedural. If you like that type of book, and can handle some violence and a good bit of rough language, you are in for a very good read.
April Woo is a Chinese-American detective with the NYPD. She is assigned to a hot-button, very high profile case: a mother beaten nearly to death, with a missing baby. While trying to solve the case and avoid the myriad political pitfalls involved, both within and outside the police department, April also must balance the demands of her domineering parents and make an important decision about her relationship.
If you are mainly attracted to mystery novels as puzzles, and love to try to figure out whodunnit, Stealing Time is not much of a challenge. The logical suspects are few, and the author’s sleight-of-hand in obscuring certain pieces of information is a bit obvious. Also, since the book features multiple viewpoints, including those of the victims and the bad guys, it’s hard to keep the plot twists entirely secret. By the final third of the book, everyone, including the reader, knows who did what, and the story becomes more of a suspense plot- will they catch the bad guy in time?
But the mystery is not really the main point of this book. Stealing Time is character driven, all the way. While the case is a crucial driving component of the story, the real meat is the interaction between April and her colleagues, the victims and suspects in the case, and April’s own cultural baggage. As her relationship with Mike becomes more serious, her mother steps up a campaign against April (who is already a “bad daughter” for not marrying, and doing something as unglamorous and unprofitable as police work) to the point of physically endangering April. At the same time, April can’t help wondering if the case, featuring a number of Chinese women abused by the non-Chinese men in their lives, holds a personal warning for her.
April and Mike are both well realized, fully human characters, with all the frustrations that can imply. April is so self-contained, even internally, that it is sometimes difficult to fully identify with her. And of course, from a romance standpoint, I found myself desperately wanting April to just let go, trust Mike and lean on him as she needed to, to get through the case and her personal crisis. But the reasons for her not to do just that were realistic and important, tangled up in her issues with her parents, her history with Mike, and the difficult and infuriating politics of the NYPD. I ended up respecting April greatly, even when I wrestled with whether I actually liked her.
Stealing Time is one of a series of books featuring April Woo. I haven’t read any of the previous books in the series and found that this one stood fairly well on its own. However, I suspect that reading the books in order would add a lot to the characters and their development, particularly in terms of the relationship between April and Mike.
Stealing Time combines the best elements of police dramas like Law and Order and NYPD Blue. Like the latter, Stealing Time features the interaction of personal lives and public duty. And like the former, it combines the drama of the quest for justice with the exhaustive detail of everyday police work and the difficulties of internal politics. If you like those shows, you may want to steal some time of your own and give this book a try.