Saturday, April 4, 2020

Howie Balaban: Book Review - A Murder in Time

A Murder in Time - Julie McElwain
Pegasus Crime
513 Pages

Sometimes, when a person steps out of his or her comfort zone, something amazing can be found. Such was the case for me when I stumbled upon the thrill ride called A Murder in Time. The first novel by author Julie McElwain was published four years ago. Since that time, McElwain has written three sequels. Excellent!

The plot of A Murder in Time seems simple, but layer by layer the reader realizes just how complex the story truly is. The main heroine, Kendra Donovan, is someone we’ve likely seen on any prime time police procedural. She’s young and a standout in her chosen field, which is almost a necessity given that her field is the FBI and she’s a woman in a field that is predominantly populated by men. However, when a field operation goes wrong, leaving Kendra scarred, she spends her time thinking about how to right the wrongs that occurred. In doing so, she travels to England and tracks down an enemy who got away.

As Kendra’s hunt reaches its climax, she suddenly finds herself 200 years in the past, with nary a hint of modern amenities. Thankfully, in sending Kendra to the past, McElwain chose not to go too in depth. There have been some authors who have attempted to write time travel and the details of the time travel bog down the story. That was not the case here. In what I’d describe as a “suspension of disbelief,” Kendra simply entered a hallway and was sent back a few spaces.

And that was all roughly in the first hundred pages!

Kendra’s FBI training keeps her mostly level-headed throughout her time in the past, and it most definitely comes in handy when she soon realizes that the castle in which she found herself has a serial killer in its vicinity. However, without modern forensic science to help her out, Kendra starts to stand out for her keen eye and her blunt and rather “unladylike” manner of doing business. She gains the trust of several important people, including a Duke and a Lady, and slowly begins to tear a long thread that ultimately unmasks the killer.

Being thrown back in time is something that many authors try to do with their characters, to varying degrees of success. I believed it worked here because the main story – the hunt for a violent psychopath – took precedence over the “sensibilities” of the time period in which the story took place. With more and more people growing concerned about who might be among them, they were forced to trust Kendra and her uncommon methods. As the story progressed, she managed to gain the respect of several men of wealth and power who might have otherwise ignored her. In the era in which we live, I suppose you could say this is a feminist story. However, it is one that does not take its message and continually harp on it. Instead, it makes you root for the heroine despite her faults and because of them, too.

The supporting characters in this story, including some of the prime suspects in Kendra’s case, help to provide a great backdrop for early-1800s England. Their prim and proper attitudes, their worry about women’s sensibilities, their acceptance of a class system, and their worry about appearances all show up in some way or another. Also, McElwain manages to insert some 21s-Century humor into the narrative. For instance, Kendra’s recognition of a chamber pot made me chuckle, and Kendra realizing that coffee didn’t have to come from a single-serve cup and thus tasted so much better, made me smile.

What also made me smile is that upon looking up which McElwain book to read next (it’s called A Twist in Time, by the way), I learned that the first book in the series has been picked up by a production company and is in development as a television series. Here’s hoping it becomes a show my wife and I can enjoy, and one in which I’ll know what’s happening before she does!

Howie Balaban likes time travel and time manipulation. He's like to manipulate it so he can write and read more. Especially write more.