Killing Time, by Linda Howard

>> Tuesday, March 18, 2008

TITLE: Killing Time
AUTHOR: Linda Howard

PAGES: 330
PUBLISHER: Piatkus in the UK (Ballantine in the US)

SETTING: Contemporary Kentucky, US
TYPE: Cross between romantic suspense and time-travel

REASON FOR READING: I tend to run away from time-travels, but the one time Linda Howard tried her hand at the genre, it resulted in the wonderful Son of the Morning. So in spite of the subject and of the fact that this book received a very lukewarm welcome, I thought I'd give it a try.

In 1985, with much fanfare, a time capsule was buried under the front lawn of a small-town county courthouse, to be reopened in 2085. But just twenty years later, in the dead of night, the capsule is dug up, its contents stolen. That same night, one of the contributors to the capsule is brutally slain in his home - with no sign of forced entry or indication of a struggle. One by one, others who had placed items in the time capsule are murdered.

Besides his suspicions about the sudden, mysterious appearance of Nikita Stover, the chief investigator, Knox Davis, has absolutely no leads. And while Nikita's no murderer, she seems to be hiding plenty of secrets. With more at stake than anyone else realizes, the smart-talking Nikita is determined to catch this cunning killer - while at the same time battling her own deepening feelings for a man and for a world in which she doesn't belong.
THE PLOT: When strange things suddenly start happening one morning in tiny Pekesville, detective Knox Davis, who likes nothing better than a mysterious puzzle, is er... puzzled. First someone digs up the town's time capsule from right in front of the courthouse, leaving absolutely no footprints in the churned-up earth around the hole. It's all filmed on the security cameras, but all that can be seen on the tape is a bright white flash and then suddenly, there's a hole where there wasn't anything one minute earlier. A farmer reports some vandalism and mentions he saw some white flashes among the trees the night before. Someone is murdered inside a tightly locked house... with a spear. And finally, Nikita Stover shows up, sniffing around the crime scene. She claims to be an FBI agent, but she strikes Knox as someone out of place.

Nikita is an FBI agent, but as we soon find out, she's also very much out of place, because she's not from this FBI. She's a time-traveller from the 23rd century, on a mission to apprehend an unauthorised time-traveller. Things start going wrong from the very minute she goes in, and when it soon becomes clear that someone in her organisation must be involved, she will have to rely on Knox to stay alive and complete her mission.

MY THOUGHTS: Well, now, this was a mess. A great, big mess. There was a potentially nice story and the bones of a decent romance buried in there, but the plot was so half-baked and ridiculous and badly conceived that I ended up cringing through most of the book.

Time-travel usually gives me a headache. I hate it. I hate having to think of the whole if I change this, then this happen, so this wouldn't happen, and then she wouldn't exist in the first place and yadda-yadda-yadda thing, but it's unavoidable, otherwise you have some nice failures of logic.

Which this book had, in spades. Stuff like, I don't know, Nikita being allowed a month to complete her mission, so once she loses her means of time travelling, there's no chance that a search-and-rescue party will come for her for a month. That's just silly. What's to keep her from returning 1 minute after she left, in 23rd century time, even after spending a month in 2005? So if after that minute she doesn't show, they'd know to send a search party immediately, maybe even to the moment when she shows up in 2005. Or is the implication that somehow time is advancing at the same pace in the two moments in time so she can't do it? Which makes no sense, as far as anything about time-travel can make sense at all.

And how about her lamenting about how they could have been so short-sighted and not thought of sending an agent to the location and time where the unauthorised traveller would appear (which they know perfectly from the time-travelling machine settings), only a few minutes earlier? *Groan* Yeah, right, they've sent three agents in total and didn't think of that? Then you might as well dissolve the FBI, because they're all brain-dead. That's the kind of thing that keeps happening in this book: there are huge suspensions of logic required so that the plot makes even the slightest sense. And sometimes that wasn't enough. The villain's motivations, for instance, make absolutely no sense at all. I just went "huh?" and still don't get what he was trying to do.

To all this, other problems must be added. First, Howard's vision of the future is pretty lame and inconsistent. Pretty much all books and music from the late 20th and early 21st century have been lost, because storage devices like CDs proved fragile. What, did they all suddenly fail at the same time?? Wouldn't it make more sense that once people saw they'd started to fail they'd back up other copies in better media? *sigh* Also, the little language issues, which are a running joke throughout the book, and which supposedly happen because Nikita doesn't recognize some idioms and slang, were not convincing. If she studied the language enough to be as proficient as she is, she should have known them. I knew them all, and I knew them even before I moved to England, when I'd spent all my life in Spanish-speaking Uruguay. And finally, -and this is probably just my problem- Linda Howard's sense of humour and mine don't really jibe. There were quite a few moments which I think were supposed to be hilarious (Knox laughs and laughs like a loon), but I thought they were just idiotic.

The writing's smooth, the pages keep turning and the hero's nice, a total teddy bear with some slight alpha tendencies, but that's just not enough to overcome the monumentally stupid plot.



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