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Borrowed Time (1998): Borrow It

Robert Goddard, Borrowed Time (Corgi, 1998)

[originally posted 19Jul2001]

A shadowed house dominates the book's cover.

The house, in darkness.
photo credit: lib.mn

There are three types of mystery novels. The best of them grab you by the throat and pull you along. You give up eating and sleeping to get through them in one sitting. The worst of them can be encapsulized in a page and a half, you’ve figured out who the killer is in three sentences, and you can safely consign them to the fire without enduring the rest of the writing therein. The third type sits between the two. It’s well-written enough, and fine while you’re reading it, but you don’t feel that compulsion to continue when something else beckons; you don’t resent the phone ringing when you hear it. These are the good mysteries (as opposed to the great ones). Robert Goddard writes good mysteries. This is his eighth, the story of how a man on a hike’s chance encounter with a beautiful woman gets him (and some members of his family) tangled up in her family’s odd twists and turns. It’s well plotted, moves along at a steady if not brisk pace, and there are enough satisfying twists and turns to keep the reader occupied. But it doesn’t beg to be picked up every time it’s put down. Perhaps the problem lies in Goddard’s writing style, which is a bit on the thick side; perhaps it’s just his characters, who always seem to be teetering on the brink of two-dimensionality without ever actually getting there (that, of course, is a charge that can be laid against many mysteries, including some of the best; Spillane’s female characters, e.g., had all the depth of a lasagna noodle). Or perhaps, Borrowed Time just doesn’t read as fast as some of its contemporaries. It’s certainly not a bad novel, and mystery fans who have grown tired of reading the same authors over and over again might do well to refresh themselves with a dip in Goddard’s pool. Just don’t be expecting another Lehane, Parker, or Highsmith. ** ½

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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