The principal reason why Barbara Taylor Bradford has been able to maintain her position at the top of the tree for so long is the sheer consistency of her writing: Where You Belong may not ring any changes in a highly successful formula, but there is no denying her impeccable credentials as one of the most able of popular writers. As usual, though, all the reassuring elements are firmly in place here: a young woman struggles to make her mark against insuperable odds and enjoys a tempestuous relationship with one or more men, with all of the drama set against a vividly described backdrop.
Bradford's heroine this time is Valentine Denning, a young photojournalist risking her life on the frontlines in Kosovo. She shares her dangerous life with a British and an American colleague: Tony Hampton and Jake Newburg are men whom she both loves and trusts. One is a best friend, one a lover. But when all of them are shot and one killed, Val is forced to leave the world of war danger behind for the safe, glitzy world of celebrity shoots. The perils here are more in the realm of emotional damage, when she finds herself dealing with a famous artist and playboy. An encounter with him forces her to relive the dangerous life that she thought was over.
Val is a striking heroine, delivered with all Bradford's customary richness. Cut from a familiar cloth, perhaps, but that is one of the reasons that the abrupt change of gears in the book (from the battle lines to the glossy world of celebrity) is negotiated smoothly. Fears that the author may have bitten off more than she can chew with the grittiness of the opening scenes are soon allayed: Bradford despatches the Kosovo sequences with surprising aplomb. But her métier, as always, is a heroine cast adrift and trying to find the kind of life that suits her best. The men in Val's life are also drawn with a skill that will surprise those who only know of Bradford as a superior purveyor of romance. In fact, she is a highly efficient writer who uses the conventions of the genre for her own purposes. She is unlikely to win any new converts here, but admirers will find everything that they go to her books for delivered with skill and assurance. There are the usual diverting revelations, and that surprising skill at atmospheric scene-setting:
I stopped abruptly, and looked up. A large spot of rain had just hit my arm. I saw that the sky had turned a cold, steely grey and yet there was a curious luminosity behind that greyness. Flashes of lightning were illuminating the darkening afternoon sky, and I felt the cool touch of the mistral blowing over my body as we stumbled on towards the villa. --Barry Forshaw