A Murder in Time
I chose to review A Murder in Time hoping for a fresh take on one of my favorite genres. Instead, what I got was an uninspired story with clichéd plotting and tired character tropes. This is a book that does not work on any level – whether you approach it as a straightforward mystery or as a fish-out-of-water time travel story.
FBI Special Agent Kendra Donovan is part of a special task force on the trail of international terrorist Vlad Balakirev. When Kendra and her team finally manages to track Balakirev to a warehouse in New York, the ensuing take-down results in the death of 5 agents. Kendra herself is also seriously injured while Sir Jeremy Green, the millionaire financing Balakirev’s criminal operations, essentially gets a free pass by agreeing to turn informant for the feds.
As soon Kendra has sufficiently recovered from her injuries, she makes her way to Aldridge Castle in England to assassinate Sir Jeremy. While there, she stumbles down a dark stairwell to escape unknown assassins and somehow comes out of the stairwell into another time – 1815 to be exact. Posing as a lady’s maid, Kendra manages to stay on at the castle. But when the body of a young prostitute turns up, Kendra can’t help but feel that the murder and her circumstances are somehow connected, and that her only chance to go home lies in unmasking the killer and preventing him from killing again.
My biggest quibble with this book is that no one in it acts in a manner that is consistent with his or her characterization. The biggest transgressor is Kendra, a brilliant child prodigy who graduated from Princeton at the age of 18 and became the youngest field agent to ever be accepted by the FBI. The problem? Nothing she does in the book remotely supports this purported brilliance. Within days of arriving in 1815, she has pretty much aroused the suspicion of everyone by using profiling jargons such as “unsub” and “murder signature” and generally talking and acting as if she is still in 2016. It would be different if some humor were injected into these incidents, but the author pretty much tells it straight – or maybe the humor just doesn’t come across very well – it only makes Kendra sound like a loud-mouthed 12-year-old.
In addition, most of the supporting characters are as infuriating as Kendra. They all seem to have come from Casting Central 101 and none of them exhibits the tiniest bit of common sense. Other than serving as the obligatory love interest, Lord Sutcliffe’s main role seems to be asking Kendra who she really is every couple of pages. And when she refuses to answer, he waits a couple of days and asks her again (repetition is also a theme of the book). There is also an amazingly large number of people in the aristocracy who are willing to take orders from a lady’s maid who is clearly hiding something and who are prepared to attribute all of her oddities to her being American. I can only surmise that none of these privileged lords and ladies were taught geography or critical thinking by their tutors and governesses.
By the time the murder mystery gets into full swing, the lack of real, three-dimensional characters pretty much guaranteed that I didn’t care about whodunit or whether Kendra manages to find her way back home. It turns out that’s just as well, since most of the crime-solving actions involve Kendra regurgitating dialogue straight out of Criminal Minds, and the romance between Kendra and Lord Sutcliffe is of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety. Also, the book ends abruptly without resolving many of the storylines. There’s nothing that ties the 19th century murders back to the terrorist hunt at the beginning, no clue as to who the unknown assassins are, and, most egregiously, we don’t get to find out if Kendra returns to the 21st century. I suppose this means that there is a sequel in the works. But I’ve seen much better set ups for sequels done by, well, pretty much any other book that has a sequel.
As I read through A Murder in Time, I found myself downgrading it every couple of chapters. After an entire week of putting it down, picking it up, and putting it down again, I can only conclude that this is a book that I cannot recommend. The author did make some interesting observations about how people have changed and have not changed in last 200 years, but those are not enough to save this novel from earning a less than satisfactory grade.