Beyond Forever by Debra Dier
(Leisure, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4623-7
***
The romance between an older man and a younger woman is a staple of the romance genre. In Beyond Forever, Debra Dier has taken this convention to its limits. Gavin McKinnon, seventh earl of Dunmore, is approximately 154 years older than the woman with whom he falls in love. He is also a ghost.

In mid-1999, Julia Fairfax, her grandmother, and orphaned niece, Lauren, arrive at Castle Dunmore in the Scottish Highlands to spend the summer with a dear friend of Julia's grandmother. The first evening of their visit, restless after the flight from Chicago, Julia goes out for a walk along the near-by cliffs. The mist rolls in, and Julia realizes that her return to the Castle will be unexpectedly dangerous. Before she can attempt the walk, however, a Byronesque Scotsman appears out of the fog to guide her back.

The Scot is Gavin McKinnon, and he wants Julia to come back with him to the year of his death: 1818. He is convinced that Julia will somehow be able to prevent the series of tragedies that wiped out his family -- himself, his mother, his brother, his sister, and his son -- over a period of two years.

Julia is all too familiar with catastrophic accidents. Five years earlier her parents and her brother and his wife died in an auto accident, leaving their three-year-old daughter for Julia to raise. While Julia is tempted to help Gavin, she is reluctant to desert Lauren for even a short time…and she has a hard time believing Gavin's promise that she will be returned to her own time once the past has been altered. Finally, however, Gavin's patience is exhausted and Julia is swept, willy-nilly, into the 19th century.

Fully one-third of Beyond Forever takes place in 1999 and, despite the underlying seriousness of the reason why Gavin needs Julia, the tone is light-hearted. As in Thorne Smith's "Topper" series, Julia finds herself having apparently one-sided conversations with someone only she can see and hear, locking doors against a suitor who can walk right through them, and defending her contemporary admirer to a jealous ghost.

Once the scene shifts to the 19th century, however, Dier's story loses its light-hearted touch. The Gavin of 1818 is a bitter, untrusting survivor of a disastrous marriage. He does not remember Julia and is understandably skeptical of her time-traveling story. So distrustful is he of all women that he accuses Julia of trying to trap him into marriage immediately after he seduces her. Not an attractive character, our 19th century earl.

Dier devotes 175 pages to Gavin's alternating pursuit and rejection of Julia, or about 100 pages too many. Despite a sub-plot involving an attempt to kidnap Gavin's son, this section dragged as the story lost its magic and its charm. A touching ending helped redeem the work, but the story never regained the appeal it had for me in its first 117 pages.

Despite occasionally anachronistic dialogue…would a 19th century beau define a quarrel between lovers as a mating dance?…Dier writes an unobtrusive prose that makes for easy reading. When I combined her competent style with the engaging opening section, I found it easy to give Beyond Forever a solid three-heart rating despite my disappointment with the mid-section of the book.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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