All the Queen's Men

A Bouquet of Babies

Cry No More

Dying to Please

A Game of Chance

Kiss Me While I Sleep

Mr Perfect

Now You See Her

Open Season

To Die For

 
Killing Time by Linda Howard
(Ballantine, $25.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-345-45345-X
***
In 1985, fifteen-year-old Knox Davis watches as a time capsule is buried in his hometown of Pekesville, Kentucky. Alert and watchful, Knox notices that thirteen items are placed inside the box, not the twelve that has been publicized. Nobody else seems to have noticed, and twenty years later, that thirteenth item will be at the root of a perplexing mystery.

Fast-forward to 2005, and Knox, now a police investigator, is called on to locate the time capsule, which has been dug up and stolen. Knox finds freshly-dug dirt, but no footprints. Surveillance tapes show only a bright flash of white light, then a hole in the ground where the capsule was buried.

Then a local attorney – one of the contributors to the time capsule - is found dead in his home with a five-foot spear protruding from his back. There is no sign of forced entry or struggle. Stymied, Knox now must contend with the appearance of FBI Agent Nikita Stover. Nikita turns up at the murder scene and somebody promptly takes a shot at her. Knox takes Nikita back to his office, and though Nikita has all the right credentials, something about her doesn’t ring true. Maybe it’s her confusion over common idioms, or that the FBI seems to have no record of her. Knox confronts her, and Nikita shows him the contents of her purse. She’s an FBI agent all right – from 200 years in the future.

Nikita has several secrets she hasn’t told Knox, though they’ll come out as their relationship takes tenuous root. More murders follow, and it seems that whoever is doing the killing is using the time capsule as a springboard. But what is their motive? Was it the mysterious thirteenth item? And when it becomes apparent that Nikita is a target, how can Knox keep her safe?

The mystery was intriguing, and the time-travel element certainly got my attention, but the romance thread in Killing Time isn’t as strong as Howard’s usual efforts. Nikita, due to her birth circumstances, was raised to keep herself in low profile. As a result, she is self-effacing to the point of anonymity. Though intelligent, there’s little spark to her character; high-tech gadgets and great butt aside, there’s also little apparent reason for Knox to fall for her.

Knox felt equally flat. He’s a pure beta hero: sensitive, patient, and accommodating, always looking out for Nikita. And that might be the crux of the problem – two beta leads don’t create much sizzle. In Howard’s best novels, the leads play off one another. Here, they simply mesh, and rather easily at that.

Ruth, the grieving mother of Knox’s long-dead fiancée, provides a key ingredient in the plot. The other secondary characters take up minimal page space, and the story is focused pretty tightly on Knox and Nikita. If only they generated more heat, this novel would have been so much stronger. As it stands, readers will find an intriguing mystery. Linda Howard’s inventiveness gives Killing Time a great premise from which to start. While not her best, it’s still an entertaining summer read.

--Cathy Sova


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