This Time Forever
Janice Sims’ latest novel, This Time Forever, combines an interesting murder mystery and great characters, and a well-drawn small-town setting in a very believable way. However, the lack of any substantial obstacle to true love’s supposedly rough course made me feel as if these characters were being cheated out of the truly well-built relationship obviously intended for them.
Kerry Everett is chief of police in Damascus, Florida. She’s investigating the murder of a drug dealer when who should pop out of the woodwork but her old drill instructor and one-time lover Maceo Kent – now Special Agent Kent of the FBI, in town to investigate possible links to a serial killer. In no time flat they’re sharing more than information, and they need to decide where to go from here.
The characters are terrific, warm, and realistic people that you feel as if you know. Kerry is bright, strong and independent, and Mac is equally so, but determined to protect her. This never causes any conflict for them. In fact, nothing does. We know that they broke up when they were younger, but we’re not given much on why, and why this time should be any different. The following paraphrasing of one of their conversations exemplifies the full extent of their reconciliation and consideration of what drove them apart:
Kerry: “You used to be pretty controlling.”
Mac: “But I’m not now.”
Kerry: “Oh, OK, good.”
This offhand approach to their all-important earlier relationship (during which they both fell in love, and never stopped loving each other, despite the years apart, when neither of them ever contacted the other) seems like a shortcut. It’s as if the author is too lazy to show us how the characters came to care about each other – as if she just wants to skip ahead to the easy part. We know they’re great people. We know they care about each other. But we’re supposed to believe that they had this incredible affair years ago, broke it off with no hard feelings, and have both been pining away for the other all this time, and can now resume their relationship exactly where they left off without a single hitch other than the question of whether they want to commit or not. The question of commitment is, in fact, the only thing keeping them from getting engaged the minute they meet again, and, as the reader knows right away, both characters want to marry and be together for the rest of their lives – they just need to get around to telling each other. This whole approach is frustrating, because these are terrific and intelligent characters, and they deserve better.
Meanwhile, the mystery is pretty good until about halfway through, when the heroine figures it all out – correctly. From then on, it becomes rather frustrating, particularly since the rather suspicious actions of one of the characters early on are never explained, and the entire plot of the mystery at that point is figuring out how to get evidence and/or confessions. Those confessions end up being largely the result of coincidence, which is another bit of a let-down in an otherwise lively story.
However, while the mystery aspect tapers off and the romantic relationship needs some major touching up, the rest of the book is very rich and full, particularly the descriptions of the town and its interactions and relations. Also very strong is the depiction of Kerry’s close-knit family, particularly her mother and her sister and brother-in-law, none of whom are at all shy about expressing their opinions regarding Kerry’s love life. The characters and the writing are excellent, and make me eager to read more of this author’s work in the future.
As a whole, I liked this book. I felt it was lacking something in terms of actual relationship-building, but the strength of the writing, and the realistic depictions of the down-to-earth characters and their relationships with each other convinced me not to write this author off, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for her. Pick this up if you want a completely comfortable and romantic-conflict-free read, but in any case, keep an eye out for the next. I will.