In Past Obsession by Richard Keith Taylor, a number of surprising twists, and an entertaining hero, make this novel stand out from other books in the genre. Taylor creates a powerful mood throughout the novel, and readers will be inevitably drawn into this time travel thriller that doubles as a shadowy L.A. noir tale.
Jim Mercer, freelance writer for the LA Times, is handed a puff piece on a gifted artist – Emily Torrance – whose life was snuffed out seven decades earlier. While the story isn’t out of the ordinary, given his professional realm, his instant captivation with the subject of the piece, as well as her artwork, suggests that something more is going on beneath the surface. What unfolds is a cross between an investigative procedural, a suspense-driven time travel adventure, a romance, and a gritty urban drama, which gives every chapter a slightly different appeal.
The time travel element doesn’t come into play until about one third of the way into the book, when it appears that Jim Mercer is not only investigating Torrance’s mysterious murder, but was also working as her camera operator seven decades in the past. This is where the story takes the unpredictable turn, and the rest of the novel gets even more heady, leaning towards the sci-fi genre, without fully crossing over. Taylor’s ability to tow the line between a modern-day thriller and a fantastical time-travel novel is impressive, to say the least.
From time machines causing blackouts on the West Coast to an LA investigator popping up in the 1940s, wreaking havoc on the fabric of time itself, this novel is ambitious, bold, and well-conceived. The classic time-travel paradoxes are all considered, but the exposition doesn’t become too boring or technical at any time. In fact, the main focus of Mercer’s trip back through time is love, not the impossible fact that he emerged seven decades in the past. It’s a strange twist on this sci-fi niche that works very well, and makes for a very entertaining read.
Given the book’s length, the tension and suspense does happen gradually, which can keep readers on the hook for long periods in the novel, but readers will be along for the ride from the very start. The writing is sharp and smart, with very few grammatical errors, and very few weak spots in terms of the narrative flow. Some of the dialogue feels forced or unnatural at times, but the relationship between Mercer and Torrance is delicately constructed and highly believable. Mercer may seem like a cliché freelance investigative journalist, but his personality is well-developed, as is the ingénue Emily Torrance, who fits in perfectly with the 1940s time period.
Clever plot development is essential in any time travel story, as well as navigating the potential paradoxes and complications, and that is precisely what you get with Past Obsession. Successfully avoiding the classic pitfalls of the somewhat well-worn time travel genre, Richard Keith Taylor delivers a memorable novel with an inventive mix of genres that is in turns funny, heartfelt, exciting, and thought-provoking.
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