by: Linda Howard
Publisher: Ballantine Books Mass Market Edition
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 7/31/2009
Summary: In 1985, a time capsule is buried. Twenty years later, it is stolen. A study in time.
A time capsule is buried in 1985 that is meant to be opened a hundred years later. Twenty-years later, it is stolen. Sounds rather mundane.
Linda Howard’s KILLING TIME is not your typical story about time, though it could have been both-typical and about time. Instead, it is an imaginative foray into the lives of people constrained by time and circumstance, and paradoxically, liberated. It is very entertaining.
In Paul Davies’ book, About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution (reviewed here, September 2005, ), we learn that there is no answer to the question What is Time? Instead, we must ask What is the state of Mind? Once we get the right question, KILLING TIME becomes a tapestry of psychological thrillers which the author unfolds with the usual twists and turns of plot. It is an entertainment package which, appropriately, leaves the reader with more questions than answers.
Chief Inspector Knox Davis was a fifteen year old when he watched the town luminaries bury the time capsule at the Pekesville, Kentucky courthouse. In 2005, he watched on video a mysterious hole appear where the time capsule had been buried. The capsule supposedly contained thirteen items but the young Knox saw only twelve were put in. He questioned it at the time. The thirteenth item would become pivotal in solving the mystery of why the mysterious hole appeared and why those associated with the original burial were being murdered.
When Kikita Stover, who identifies herself as an FBI agent, appears at the scene of one of the murders, the plot fully blooms and the entertainment starts. Think State Of Mind.
Imagine you had an opportunity to go back in time and change one little item in the history of your life. No doubt you would carry back with you all the spine-chilling warnings about altering something in the past that could nullify your very existence-like preventing your mother and father from meeting. Starting with The Time Machine by H.G. Wells to the even more explicit Back To the Future movie trilogy written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, time travel is depicted as fraught with danger. Walter Cronkrite’s “that’s the way it was” sign-off for the evening news in the 1970s is more or less the gospel on time. Of course, the “that’s the way it was” should more appropriately be stated as “that’s the way I believe it was based on the information available to me at the moment”. The correction opens up a whole new can of strings.
Your sojourn back to the past to change one little item in your life is similarly based on the information available to you at the moment. Let’s assume that twenty years ago you were involved in a car accident that killed the other driver and left you bound to a wheel chair. Looking back on this, you realize there were a myriad of ways you could be prevented the accident. You could have left five minutes later or earlier, taken a different route, not driven at all. The possibilities are rather breath-taking when you think about it. The bottom-line however is that you know the accident could have been avoided so you resolutely go back to the past to make it un-happen. You are armed with nothing more than a State Of Mind based on the now-this moment.
Before you crank-up the time machine, stop and ponder this elemental question: can you take your state of mind back to the pass?
Without giving away the story, KILLING TIME, like all other entertainment in which time travel is a feature, simply ignores the elemental question of state of mind. Past, present, and future are handled as a linear continuum. A time capsule has been stolen, FBI agents of a different kind are being killed, and there is a grand conspiracy afoot. Inspector Knox Davis must deal with this conflagration of time and events, handicapped by a state of mind in which none of it is possible.
Under Linda Howard’s crafting, KILLING TIME as a story does seem possible. Still, in the “real world”, the elemental question is not so easily ignored. All the emphasis on not changing the past when you get “back” to the past is really a secondary consideration. The real concern is whether you have the resources, the State of Mind to change the past when you get there.
On this hypothetical trip “back” to the past to avoid an accident, you are assuming that time is a linear continuum. You were there. You are now here. You want to change the past and move beyond the now to end up in a future. Do you really have to go back to the past to arrive at a future? The answer of course is no. At the risk of sounding like a motivational speaker, you change your future by changing your State of Mind at the moment. So, when you hop into your time machine determined to get back to the scene of the accident, you have already changed your past. You are carrying it with you. Therein lies the paradox of time travel. Of course there is no paradox if time is not linear. There are hints in quantum physics that time is a mind-warp: perception creates reality, reality becomes the past coloring perception.
Linda Howard’s KILLING TIME strays just far enough away from the conventional treatment of time to be highly entertaining and informative.