Book Review: A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

Title: A Rip Through Time
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication date: May 31, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In this series debut from New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, a modern-day homicide detective finds herself in Victorian Scotland—in an unfamiliar body—with a killer on the loose.

May 20, 2019: Homicide detective Mallory is in Edinburgh to be with her dying grandmother. While out on a jog one evening, Mallory hears a woman in distress. She’s drawn to an alley, where she is attacked and loses consciousness.

May 20, 1869: Housemaid Catriona Mitchell had been enjoying a half-day off, only to be discovered that night in a lane, where she’d been strangled and left for dead . . . exactly one-hundred-and-fifty years before Mallory was strangled in the same spot.

When Mallory wakes up in Catriona’s body in 1869, she must put aside her shock and adjust quickly to the reality: life as a housemaid to an undertaker in Victorian Scotland. She soon discovers that her boss, Dr. Gray, also moonlights as a medical examiner and has just taken on an intriguing case, the strangulation of a young man, similar to the attack on herself. Her only hope is that catching the murderer can lead her back to her modern life . . . before it’s too late.

Outlander meets The Alienist in Kelley Armstrong’s A Rip Through Time, the first book in this utterly compelling series, mixing romance, mystery, and fantasy with thrilling results. 

In this engrossing start to a new series, Canadian detective Mallory is visiting her dying grandmother in Edinburgh when she stops to investigate a woman’s cries down a dark alley. As Mallory is attacked, she sees a strange optical illusion, but quickly passes out as the unknown assailant strangles her.

When she wakes up, she’s in a strange house, in strange clothing, including — of all things — a corset. Weirdly true despite being hard to believe, it would appear that Mallory has been transported into the body of a housemaid named Catriona, who was attacked and strangled in the same alley as Mallory — but 150 years earlier.

Quick-thinking Mallory figures out the truth of her situation fairly quickly, and uses her head injury as an explanation for her severe memory loss and marked change in personality. The housemaid who’d claimed illiteracy previously can suddenly read and write, and what’s more, takes an interest in her master’s forensic work that’s decidedly new and different.

As Mallory spends more time as Catriona, she realizes that while she doesn’t have an obvious way back to her own life, she can make a contribution where she is by applying her knowledge of 21st century police procedures to help solve the case of a potential serial killer haunting Edinburgh. Unfortunately for Mallory, she also discovers that Catriona was not a sweet, innocent 19-year-old, but a young woman with a gift for thievery, deceit, and no moral compass. As Mallory struggles to make sense of her new life, she also is confronted by the mistrust and dislike earned by the person who’s body she inhabits.

Can’t say I’ve ever read a plot like this one before!

A Rip Through Time is fascinating and utterly immersive, exploring a fish-out-of-water situation through the eyes of a strong, accomplished woman forced into a life where she has none of the “womanly” qualities deemed necessary to fit in. Mallory is a terrific character, confronting her bizarre circumstances with intelligence and determination, applying her years of experience as a detective to both help her employer solve the mysteries he sees in his line of work as well as to solve the huge unknowns about her own case.

Not only is Mallory in the wrong century in the wrong body, but she’s been targeted at least once by a killer, and as her time in Edinburgh of the 1860s continues, she learns that she/Catriona is still in danger. There’s a mystery to solve and a killer to catch, and the action is fast-paced and totally fun to unpack and follow along.

This may all sound like an unbelievable set-up for a story, and I suppose in a less-skilled writer’s hands, that might make it unreadable — but here, Kelley Armstrong confidently weaves a story about crime, women’s roles, time travel, connections, independence, and family, and makes it all work.

It’s really fun to see Mallory’s takes on her life in this new time and place:

If I had to cast him in a period drama, it’d be somewhere between “mad scientist” and “brooding lord with his wife locked in the attic”.

I love how she compares everything she encounters to the way the era is portrayed in film and fiction:

I’m trying to pass back through time by returning to the place where I crossed over. My brain says that makes logical sense, but I am well aware that it only makes sense because I’ve seen it in movies and read it in books. […] I am basing my entire theory on the imagination of fiction writers. Not scientists, because there is no science. People can’t travel through time. Therefore, writers don’t need to worry about “getting it right.” They make up whatever they want.

{…]

If so many writers used that particular trope, maybe there was a kernel of truth to it. It’s like meeting a vampire while holding a vial of holy water and not throwing it at him.”

The writing throughout is fresh and fun, and while there is plenty of danger and some more serious moments, Mallory’s 21st-century voice keeps the story from feeling like a stodgy historical piece.

I was a little bit hesitant at first when I learned that A Rip Through Time is the first in a series, rather than a stand-alone. However, now that I’ve finished, I’m delighted that there will be more! I can’t say much about the ending or what I might expect from book #2 without entering spoiler territory… but let’s just say that I found the ending of this book very satisfying, and yet with plenty more to explore in future books. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Book Review: A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong

Title: A Stitch in Time
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: October 31, 2020
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Time slip/ghost story
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thorne Manor has always been haunted…and it has always haunted Bronwyn Dale. As a young girl, Bronwyn could pass through a time slip in her great-aunt’s house, where she visited William Thorne, a boy her own age, born two centuries earlier. After a family tragedy, the house was shuttered and Bronwyn was convinced that William existed only in her imagination.

Now, twenty years later Bronwyn inherits Thorne Manor. And when she returns, William is waiting.

William Thorne is no longer the boy she remembers. He’s a difficult and tempestuous man, his own life marred by tragedy and a scandal that had him retreating to self-imposed exile in his beloved moors. He’s also none too pleased with Bronwyn for abandoning him all those years ago.

As their friendship rekindles and sparks into something more, Bronwyn must also deal with ghosts in the present version of the house. Soon she realizes they are linked to William and the secret scandal that drove him back to Thorne Manor. To build a future, Bronwyn must confront the past. 

Who doesn’t love a good time-slip/haunted house/ghost story romance? I was ready to love this book from page 1.

At age 38, Bronwyn is an established history professor, a widow of eight years, and the new owner of Thorne Manor, the Yorkshire estate she’s just inherited from her great-aunt. Some of her happiest memories are from her summers at Thorne Manor, but also, some of her worst.

As a small child, Bronwyn finds a time slip, allowing her to travel back in time 200 years to play with William, a boy her age who lives in the house. At age five, her family chalks up her William experiences to having an imaginary friend. After an absence of ten years due to her parents’ divorce, Bronwyn returns at age 15, and once again slips back and forth in time. This time around, William is also 15, and their friendship begins to blossom into love. But a family tragedy occurs in Bronwyn’s time, and she leaves Thorne Manor, seemingly for good.

As the story opens, adult Bronwyn arrives back at the manor once more. She’s convinced herself that her time with William wasn’t real, so she’s startled by a vivid dream where she wakes up in his bed. Soon, she realizes that the time slips are real after all, and she is able to reconnect with William, who is now an adult as well.

William at first is angry and tries to send her away, believing she abandoned him all those years ago. As they spend time together, he’s able to understand why she disappeared from his life, and their reunion quickly becomes passionate as they fall back into the love that started so many years earlier.

There are complications. Bronwyn, in her own time, sees ghosts. She encounters three very distinct ghosts, and all seem to have messages for her. Are they trying to warn her or scare her away?

In William’s time, she learns that he’s retreated to his country home in part because of scandal and rumors. His younger sister has disappeared, his best friend’s wife has disappeared and is presumed dead, and his former fiancée is missing as well. Gossip depicts William as a murderous mad lord, luring victims to their death on the moors. Can any of this be true? Bronwyn doesn’t believe William is capable of murder, but clearly, someone killed the people who haunt her own time, and she’s determined to learn the truth and free the spirits of the dead.

Ah, what a fun, captivating read! Yes, a big suspension of disbelief is required, but that’s to be expected in a novel where the main plot hinges on slipping through time.

I loved that Bronwyn is a mature, professional woman with a clear head on her shoulders. She’s smart and reasonable, and has also suffered in her life. She understands love and loss, and while William was her first love, he wasn’t her only love. It’s also pretty cool to see her enjoy her time in William’s world not just as a romantic interlude, but as an amazing experience as an historian, learning all she can about daily life in that era from first-hand experience.

The mystery is really well constructed and kept me guessing. The author does such a skillful job of sprinkling clues and red herrings that my suspicions really were all over the place, and I definitely went down the wrong path in my mind. I was pleased with the resolution and how well the answers fit together with what we’d learned about the various characters.

William and Bronwyn have great chemistry and mutual respect. I love that even when they’re trying to figure out what a future together might look like, Bronwyn never considers giving up her own world to live in his. She values her career, her independence, and her friends and family — she’ll spend as much time with William as she can, but she won’t make him her entire world. And to his credit, he doesn’t ask that of her.

I did find the time-slipping a little too easy. Bronwyn can basically slip back and forth at will, so that it starts to feel practically ordinary. If William has a busy day ahead, she’ll plan to pop back home to take care of her kitten and return for dinner. It starts to sound as if she’s just going down the road, rather than jumping back and forth across centuries.

Also, I had to laugh that Bronwyn has her smartphone with her when she time-slips, and that William just accepts that she can take photos and play music with her bizarre little device. And, the fact that William has apparently added to his fortune by investing based on what he learned about the future from 15-year-old Bronwyn… ummm, okay.

Still, I will freely admit that my secretly-a-sucker-for-a-good-romance heart really enjoyed the love story, and I got very caught up in the ghosts and murder mystery too.

A Stitch in Time is, plain and simple, a sweep-you-up kind of romantic tale, with great gothic elements to make it so much more.

I’ve never read any books by this author before now, but I understand that she’s a prolific urban fantasy writer and that A Stitch in Time was a big departure for her. Well done! Goodreads lists this book as the first of two, which confuses me a little because the story has a very satisfactory ending.

Still, if the story of Thorne Manor, William and Bronwyn, and time slips continues? I’ll be there for it.