Always by Trevor Meldal-Johnsen
(Bamboo Grove, $24.95, PG-13)
****
Gregory Thomas, a young screenwriter on a fast track to fame, attends a screening of an old film, and is instantly captivated by the leading lady. She's lovely, with fair hair and deep blue eyes. Her name is Brooke Ashley. And she's been dead for nearly forty years.

Yet Gregory's interest soon becomes an obsession. Who was Brooke Ashley, and why is he so driven to find out all about her? When Gregory learns that Brooke and her lover, Michael Richardson, died in a mysterious fire along with Brooke's mother, his life begins to spin out of control. Nightmares plague him with flashbacks of fire and a menacing dark figure hovering over him, warning him away from Brooke. Then Gregory begins to re-live scenes from Brooke's life, from the viewpoint of Michael Richardson.

His fiancée, budding actress Sharon Forbes, is not amused. In fact, she's infuriated by Gregory's intense interest in Brooke. An elderly psychic, Olga Nabakov, knew Brooke and is able to provide some clues and insight into Gregory's ever-increasing flashbacks. Then the threats begin. Is history about to repeat itself?

Always is a suspenseful and romantic thriller. A fast-paced tale, readers will be turning pages anxiously to see if this time, Gregory can get it right. The reincarnation thread brings to mind contemporary films like Dead Again and Somewhere in Time, and the story line is as intriguing now as it must have been when first published twenty years ago.

Because the book is plot-driven more than character-driven, only Gregory is presented in any depth. Brooke drifts in and out in flashback form, and we get glimpses of her personality, but for the most part readers are left with an overwhelming sense of passion rather than a feeling of deep emotional connection between her and Michael. That's okay – it's quite a sensual journey. The author manages to insert a thread of Scientology that didn't add much to the story, and there are some references to 1970s icons that date the tale, but on the whole it's clean and focused, a pleasure to read.

Always was undoubtedly one of the front-runners in the field of alternative romantic fiction, but deserves a place on readers' shelves on the merits of the story alone. And while the $24.95 price tag isn't cheap, many will feel it's a real bargain. This is one worth looking for.

--Cathy Sova


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