A Murder in Time


Julie McElwain


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

November 29, 2020

forget now what review made me want to read A Murder in Time, but the plot sounded intriguing enough that I ordered it from the library. I confess I was dismayed to read the back flap and discover that Julie McElwain, the author, works as an editor for the soap opera "The Young and the Restless". Rats, I hoped to read a story about a historical murder mystery, not a romance story. I almost put the book aside without starting it.

But I did read the book and can happily report that it is not romance novel at all. The only time "romance" intrudes on the plot is about twentieth-time-too-many that the reader is told about Alec's dramatic green eyes. The rest of the story focuses on Kendra Donovan, FBI agent, who is mysteriously whisked back in time to 1815 England. The reader has to accept that this time travel event occurs, and then enjoy Donovan's dilemma - a twenty-first century woman trapped in 19th century England. Unfortunately, Donovan is mistaken for a servant girl, and is put to work in the castle. At one point, they mention that the castle has over 4000 workers (!) so Donovan can easily be mistaken as part of the hired help. Work turns out to be complicated and tiring, and Donovan has difficulty adjusting to her situation.

At an outdoor picnic, an unknown young woman is found floating dead in the lake. It is presumed she drowned, but FBI-agent Donovan immediately discerns the clues that the girl was murdered, and tortured brutally before she died. There are no forensics, no databases, no team of specialists which Donovan previously had relied upon - in 19th century England, she has only her wits to match against a cunning killer. Can she catch him before he strikes again?

It is clear that McElwain did an enormous of research into early 19th century England - she describes the clothing, the food, the social status - all of which sounded authentic to me. But at a couple points, I thought she made a mistake. One morning, Kendra wakes up and glances at the clock on her nightstand and sees it is 6:45 A.M. A clock on the nightstand? I thought clocks were marvels of precision engineering back then, powered by falling weights, I doubt there would be such a luxury item in the servants bedroom. Another time, Kendra's clothing is hung on peg - and Kendra recalls that wire hangers won't be invented until 1869. Just because Kendra is a super genius, she wouldn't have known a detail like that. When she mentions the air speed of a 747 is 570 mph, it rings false.

I was surprised that Napoleon is only mentioned once in this story. It is 1815! The battle of Waterloo is recent history! But the only time Napoleon is mentioned, he has been exiled to St. Helena. (According to Wikipedia, Napoleon did not arrive on St. Helena until October 15th of 1815). I tried to think of events in history that I could use to show the British duke that I was from the future. About the only thing I could come up with was the election of James Monroe as the 5th president in 1816. Or maybe that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the same day, on July 4th - I think it was exactly 50 years after 1776, which would mean they were fated to die in 1816. Oops, I just looked it up - Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4th of 1826, I guess I wouldn't be very convincing as a time traveler who knows the future.

Kendra is the offspring of two genius parents who got together with the goal of producing brilliant offspring. Why her parents made this choice is not explained, nor why Kendra has no siblings. Kendra is called a "Frankenbaby", a media sensation in her childhood. But there is no genetic manipulation involved, her birth is simply the result of two brilliant people having a child, this happens all the time. Bright people are attracted to bright people; they marry, they produce progeny. Nothing "Frankenbaby" about that. Besides, there is no guarantee that the children of smart people will be smart themselves. There once was a sperm bank the purported to contain the contributions of Nobel Prize winners and high IQ men, but no record of any genius being born from one of those sperm samples.

Lacking forensics and science, Kendra and the Duke interview the wealthy men in the area - because questioning the possible suspects is about the only police technique available in the 19th century; though I was surprised at how sophisticated the autopsies were back then. Kendra determines that the murdered woman must have arrived from London by a private coach - I thought that the obvious next step would be to interview the coachmen of all the suspected gentry, but she misses this step.

I liked that Kendra was wrong about some things. A super genius who gets everything correct would be boring. The personality of Kendra is well drawn. The story is entertaining enough that I read it in a few days. I have already ordered the second volume, A Twist in Time from the library.