Thursday, September 28, 2017

REVIEW | A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain
Publication Year: 2016
Genre: Historical Mystery (?) Science Fiction (?)
Series: Kendra Donovan #1
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrator: Lucy Rayner


WHY?: Murder! Mystery! Time Travel! 

SYNOPSIS:  Kendra Donovan is a genius who was more experiment than daughter to her parents, so it's no surprise that she rebelled against them and is using all her inherited smarts as a profiler for the FBI.  After an operation goes terribly wrong she chases the perpetrator to a role-playing house party in the English countryside where, while in pursuit, she unceremoniously is transported back to 1815. While stumbling around trying to find her footing in this weird situation, one of the housemaids goes missing and she snaps into full-on FBI mode which, needless to say, is rather shocking for all the 1815ers.  


I liked this book.  I really, really did.  I'm putting this right up front because I suspect that contrary to that fact, my review is going to read like a litany of complaints.  There were a number of little things that bugged me and kept the book from being all it could be but even with all that I had an enjoyable time reading it.  So just keep that in mind while I fail to prevent myself from whining about what was and what could have been.

A Murder in Time's protagonist and main perspective character is Kendra Donovan.  When we meet her at the start of the novel she is a brainy FBI agent yearning to see a little field action.  She gets her wish but unfortunately it's in an operation that goes terribly wrong.  Afterwards, she gets really pissed off and goes rogue in order to get revenge on the big bad.  She's on the verge of getting said revenge when she walks down a hallway in a English country manor house, walks through a door and into the 19th Century.  There is very little explanation for this in this book though there are some hints that discovering why and how she went back in time will play a larger role in future books.

Once the book shifts in time, the story really begins.  A missing housemaid leads into a mystery and manhunt that is an interesting and fun whodunnit.  Kendra must figure out how to solve a crime without modern law enforcement technology and must rely more heavily on her profiling skills.  Needless to say, in a society that sees women as delicate, emotional flowers, she sticks out like a sore thumb. She makes little effort to blend in with the time period which in many ways bugged me (more on that later) but the author was clever to have her stick to being American so Kendra is able to pass off her eccentricities to her nationality. Because, obviously, Americans are crazy!  I may seem like I'm joking there but I'm not - we're nuts  - hopefully in a lovable way. 

There are a couple of other characters that help Kendra and are quite interesting as well. The first is the owner of the manor house, who is luckily for Kendra, a little scholarly and eccentric so he is very tolerant and open-minded about Kendra her behavior.  I can see him developing into a father figure for Kendra whose real family in the modern day is less than ideal.  The second is a noble spinster lady, about Kendra's own age, who is scarred by smallpox and who chafes against society's restrictions on women. In solidarity, she takes Kendra under her wing despite being rather shocked by her.  To be honest, and this is a big reason for mild dissatisfaction, I actually found both these two characters more interesting and likable than Kendra.  

Which leads nicely into the complaining portion of post. The book had so much potential and only partially lived up to it in my estimation.  The first issue I thought was with the beginning.  The book didn't really get interesting for me until the first murder is discovered in the historic time period and there is SO MUCH set up and dallying in the modern-day before that takes place.  I appreciate that the author really wanted to establish Kendra's life in contemporary times before shooting her into the past but I honestly didn't feel like I got to know her all that well in those first chapters and the modern day storyline was boring and pointless.  

And speaking of the modern day, one of my biggest complaints which has nothing to do with the book itself was with the audio version.  The narrator, Lucy Rayner, was all wrong for it in my opinion.  She has this very plummy, almost cartoonish British accent with a treacly sweet voice.  It's really jarring during the modern day section where the author is going for hard-boiled modern America with F bombs being dropped and an elaborate shoot out.  In the historic sections it fits a little better but she was still too sweet voiced for this.  I could see her reading the crap out of a Gail Carriger book or a particularly fluffy Regency romance but a mystery/thriller starring an American lead? Nope. 

Kendra.  The reader is repeatedly told what a genius Kendra is, and not in a normal sort of way - she is supposed to be a brilliant, through-the-roof, graduated from college when she was 15 kind of smart. She's read Jane Austen and at times recalls dates in history for specific and often obscure inventions. From her actions, she's not great with people but she doesn't completely lack social skills.  Put all of that together and you'd think she'd be on the ball enough to at least try to be inconspicuous and fit into the time period she finds herself in, but nope.  She doesn't even really seem to try and it is only because she has the good fortune to find herself with the two champions I mention above that she is not carted off to a madhouse or tarred and feathered.  She's always bossing everyone about, finding herself alone with gentlemen and referring to modern day things carelessly.  It stressed me out!  Maybe I need to stop reading so much literature set in the Regency era,lol. Her fish out of water behavior definitely leads to a few interesting scenes but overall it just felt lazy that Kendra didn't even try to fit in.  The author, I think, was just really jazzed up about using modern forensic profiling in a historic setting so didn't fuss with the reality of the situation. Your mileage will vary on how much that bothers you.

There is some romance for our intrepid heroine but the love interest is basically "Generic Regency Dude" and the interactions between he and Kendra who is also a little flat, are  pretty lackluster.  The chemistry isn't absent but it's barely bubbling.  I was much more invested in headstrong spinster lady friend finding herself some lovin' but there isn't even a whisper in that direction.  

FINAL VERDICT:  I found this time-travel mystery thriller to be a mixed bag - it had a lot of potential but only got halfway there, at least for what I was looking for.  The mystery was pretty good and because of that and some of the side characters, I am definitely interested in checking out subsequent books in the series. 3 out of 5 stars.

OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books | The Lit Bitch

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