I must confess that I'm a real fan of Judith A. Lansdowne's, so that my feelings about her novels will always be somewhat biased. What I particularly like about her novels is that she doesn't really write about the usual kind of heroes and heroines. Her heroes are not always incredibly handsome or rakish, and her heroines not always beautiful and feisty. And while it is true that sometimes she does tend to have so many subplots going that it's not always really easy to keep track of what's going on, I'll also confess that once having sorted out all the different plot-lines, I've usually enjoyed her novels immensely. For those readers however who've found the multiple subplots and romances to be a bit of a pain, news that "Just In Time" actually deals with only one romance and possesses a much tighter storyline should be welcome. Everyone should note however that the romance here does focus on a much older 40-something couple -- the widowed Duchess of Berinwick and the new vicar of St. Milburga's of the Wood, the Reverend Richard Dempsey.
The Reverend Richard Dempsey has arrived at his new parish only to discover that the Duke of Berinwick who had offered him the living is now dead, and the new Duke of Berinwick has no idea as to why his dead father had chosen Dempsey in particular for the position. (There's a bit of a mystery there and a reason why Dempsey, more a scholar than a priest, was chosen for this particular living.) Adding to the awkwardness of the situation is the fact that the parish seems to be haunted by the ghost of Owain Glyndwr (the Welsh royal prince who fought for freedom from the English in the late 1500s), and the fact that there may be some question as to how the late duke may have met with his death. And then Dempsey discovers that the widowed Duchess of Berinwick just happens to be the very person he fell in love with many years ago, and with whom he still is in love! Now Dempsey has his hands full with trying to figure out what is going on at St. Milburga at the Wood, as well as try to keep his ardent feelings for the obviously grieving widow in check!
Once I got past the slightly confusing (at least to me) opening chapter, "Just In Time" proved to be quite the read. I thought that it was truly refreshing that Judith Lansdowne had written a romance novel that featured a much older couple -- given that the norm is to feature either teenagers or else twenty-somethings. The entire subplot that dealt with how the duchess, once a pampered and somewhat spoilt beauty, but who now strove to become something more with the help of the new vicar, was really nicely done. Also nicely done was how the authour fleshed out the character of the somewhat dour and cantankerous young Duke of Berinwick (some readers may remember him from a previous Lansdowne novel, "Shall We Dance") -- it looks as if there may actually be a book in the offing featuring the duke, and I'm really looking forward to it!
All in all "Just In Time" proved to be a rather satisfying read, although I must admit that the mystery subplot in this case was almost window dressing at times. However, I did think that this was not too important a niggle since the novel was primarily about the romance that develops between the Duchess and the vicar, and about the Duchess's strained relationship with her son. And that's what made "Just In Time" a truly memorable read -- the fantastic manner in which Ms Lansdowne developed those two storylines, as well as certain characters, such as the duke and his younger sister, Hannah. A book well worth the purchase price.