I have a love-hate relationship with time travel stories. When
done well, they’re a joy. I won’t name any of the
disappointments, but the winners include THE TIME MACHINE by H.G.
Wells, a number of novels by Andre Norton, and a couple of science
fiction stories by James Tiptree Jr.: the award-winning “The
Man Who Walked Home” and the woefully under-appreciated
“Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket.” But there
hasn’t been one recently that has really grabbed me --- until
While THE 13th HOUR by Richard Doetsch is science fiction, it is
also a mystery that strays into the thriller genre for which
Doetsch is best known thanks to his highly acclaimed
Thieves series featuring Michael St. Pierre. And while his
latest includes some of the elements that are present in the St.
Pierre books, it is quite a different work for Doetsch.
The novel begins with a man named Nick Quinn in an interrogation
room. Quinn is suspect number one in the murder of his beloved wife
Julia, and it appears that the police have him dead to rights. What
the reader gleans within the first few pages of THE 13th HOUR is
that, evidence notwithstanding, the proposition that Quinn would
have murdered Julia is ridiculous. Nick loved Julia with all his
heart and was devastated by her death. Accordingly, as he sits in
the police station mere hours after her murder, his life hardly
seems worth living.
That is until a remarkable stranger whom Quinn thinks of as
“The European” presents him with an incredible
opportunity. The stranger gives Quinn an instrumentality --- an
ornate pocket watch --- that enables him to travel backward in time
for an hour at a time. He can do this as long as the watch is in
his possession and only for a total of 12 consecutive hours.
Quinn thus begins a desperate quest to save his wife, a task
that requires him to determine not only why Julia was murdered but
by whom. He realizes that there are people he can trust and others
he cannot, and that every action, no matter how well-intended, has
consequences that may not be for the best or the greater good.
Worse, as Quinn works backward through this most terrible of days,
he finds there may be some things that cannot be changed no matter
how much effort is made to do so. And even those things that can be
changed often do so at a dear price.
Doetsch makes writing THE 13th HOUR look easy, and reading it
even more so. I read it twice in one sitting: the first time
through because I absolutely had to know what would happen, and the
second time to try to ferret out how Doetsch did what he does. And
what is that? He takes Quinn, a quietly sympathetic character who
develops into as solid a person as you would ever want to meet,
puts him on a seemingly impossible task with an
all-but-irresistible temptation in front of him to distract him,
and exposes him to a series of cliffhanger endings and beginnings
with a fantastic scenario with which anyone could empathize. Think
about it: if there was one day in your life that you could change,
would you do it? Consider what else would happen if you did. All of
that occurs --- and more --- in this book.
You don’t need to be a physics major to get the premise
behind THE 13th HOUR. In fact, I’m sure that anyone
conversant in the concept of singularities and relativity would
find fault with the science as such behind it. That’s fine; I
would submit to you that at its core the premise of the novel ---
what it is that makes us human beings --- is deeper and more
important than such concerns. And it is why you will read this
impressive work over and over again.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010