When a Conscience Knocks

by James Skinner

"“...although he had been relatively stable... and was now well into the forgetful stage, there was enough of Sr. Don Juan Miguel Ochoa there to appreciate the farewell."

A story of international intrigue is told from the viewpoint of a young female English teacher under a two-year contract at a school in Tehran, Iran. While there in the 1970s and just before the rescue operation of plane hijackers at Bengasi, Jenny Robertson meets Juan Miguel Ochoa, a Spanish Embassy secretary. Juan Miguel quickly proposes, and they marry in a whirlwind before the end of the year. The couple travels well and freely around the hotspots of the world as Juan Miguel is often reassigned. They are unable to have children but thoroughly delight in each other’s physical company. They also enjoy sightseeing in the Middle East, South and Central America, and the United States. Years pass as Juan Miguel rises in the diplomatic ranks. However, their adventures bring to light new information, which causes Jenny to wonder whether their union was by accident or design. What will Jenny do now that Juan Miguel is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is retired from diplomatic service at age sixty-two?

The author starts the story with a peek into Jenny’s fractured mental state at the prospect of losing the husband she loves and depends upon. The topic of Alzheimer’s disease is clearly a cause of interest to the author’s own heart. Jenny seeks a priest to confess her misdeeds and then begins to tell her story. Skinner allows Jenny to narrate the tale in the first person, interrupted by her thoughts in italics—short bursts of words, phrases, or emotional responses. Overall, the technique works well, except for some remarks that seem to stem from a male perspective rather than that of an ingénue. Chapter headings provide location and dates, which are helpful to orient the reader in this fast-paced, 250-page romantic thriller.

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