by Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2004)
Harlequin, $5.99, ISBN 0-373-83615-5
Killing Time, Leslie Kelly's debut full-length novel, has many things that don't really add up well. It is as if this story is confused or something, because usually a story would have many elements that will add up to an exciting climax, but Killing Time has subplots that often work against each other. I'm a little confused too as a result.
The new reality show Killing Time In A Small Town is going to be shot in Derryville, Illinois, and while many locals are delighted, some have grave (ahem) misgivings. Mick Winchester, the local Romeo, isn't so sure how he should feel when he discovers that the producer is Caroline Lamb, his college sweetheart that broke up with him after she had one trust issue too many. As they dance around each other, the murder of a prominent Derryville citizen spices up things a bit.
On the bright side, this book is more realistic than other romance novels where reality TV shows are concerned. Killing Time In A Small Town has an actual predecent, the now-cancelled Murder In Small Town X, so as far as reality show premises go, this one is fine. But anyone who follows reality shows may be puzzled at the cast of Killing Time In A Small Town openly fraternizing with each other before filming begins. There doesn't even seem to be a nondisclosure agreement at work - everyone knows about this show and everyone, from castmembers to camera crews to extras, speculate with each other about the identity of the mystery killer on the show (not to be confused with the actual killer in this story, of course). Reality TV shows come under game show laws in the US and Killing Time In A Small Town is leaving itself open to all sorts of possible violations and lawsuits here. The secondary romance between a contestant and a crewmember raises some eyebrows - mostly Caro's - but there is never any formal repercussions from this romance.
By treating a reality show production like the production of a typical TV show, Ms Kelly fails to create a realistic premise for me to sink my teeth into. Sure, things are a little more realistic here than the "reality shows" in some novels I've read, but there's still a very long way to go.
Then there is the romance. I don't have a clear idea of what really happened between Mick and Caro back because there aren't many details provided. Basically these two don't want to have a relationship today because they don't want to get hurt, I think. The opaque backstory and the subsequently vague conflict between them aren't helped by these two's tedious boinkus-interruptus pattern. For a long time, their scenes follow the same pattern of heavy lusting leading to some physical foreplay before the whole thing gets called off when one of them realizes that he or she can't go on. I get really impatient and even manipulated after encountering the first few of such scenes.
The romance also doesn't have a right ring to it because of Mick. His verbal pattern is quite confusing in the sense that he sometimes come off as realistically crude (such as when he's talking about his "thick c**k") in his sexy banters and at other times his bedside talk seems stilted and unspontaneous. The erratic swing of mood from spicy and vulgar to "let me read aloud a paragraph from a Brava novel" can be quite disconcerting. Also, while the sexual tension can get really heated, the payoff is quite miserable. For example, there is a scene where the both of them watch a pornographic tape and get turned on, but the entire scene actually manages to fizzle out after the build-up. Likewise, when these two finally hit the sack, the subsequent dash for the home-run is too mundane and unexciting to make it worth my sitting through all that boinkus-interruptus scenes. There is no envelope being pushed here as much as the envelope getting sealed up when I'm getting interested in the proceedings.
This book advertizes itself as a light-hearted romantic suspense but nearly 280 pages pass before the murder takes place. And even then, the suspect is Mick's sister, which of course takes away the focus from the romance between Mick and Caro. The romance is not developed enough to afford getting sidetracked by this murder.
I don't know, really. The reality show premise has too much irregularities to be authentic and I can't overlook these problems to suspend my disbelief fully to enjoy the antics of the Derrysville folks in the story. The mystery arrives too late and ends up taking away much-needed space from the underdeveloped romance. While the author addresses the correct issues in her characters' romance, she spends too little time fleshing out their backstory to convince me to care about these two. This show tries to be sexy but at the same time, it has the heroine balking at the idea of owning a vibrator or watching a sex film. Killing Time tries to be so many things at once but it doesn't seem to know how to go about being these things or how far it should go. I'm not sure if it's a clear focus or a balance that is missing in this story, but I do know that everything about this story doesn't add up or come together as coherently as it should.
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