Kassa's Reviews > Downtime

Downtime by Tamara  Allen
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Feb 25, 2010

really liked it

Downtime is actually the first novel of author Allen and a re-released title. The theme of space travel is an interesting premise and the actual plot is pretty ambitious. The time travel is a classic element in literature but well portrayed here with some great characters that create a wide spectrum of responses. The storyline is slightly too ambitious with a few confusing elements and the mystery is distracting and too easily solved. However the book really shines in the personal interactions of the cast and delivers a solid, well written, engaging story.

FBI Agent Morgan Nash is working a case in dreary London and comes close to death when the man he’s following shoots him. At the moment he’s shot, Nash seems to be transported from his world into the past. London, 1888 to be exact. There three friends unintentionally summoned Nash, although they really thought they were summoning a demon. A demon may have been easier to deal with as the abrasive, arrogant Nash turns the lives of all three men upside down as they scramble to find a way to send him back. Yet when Nash becomes friends with these men, and perhaps more than friends with Ezra, the situation becomes even more complicated.

The story starts out somewhat confusing. There are a lot of random names thrown in with very little detail and explanation. There are agents, bosses, lovers, bad guys, and good guys all offered blithely with almost no clarification on which is which. This leads directly into the time travel aspect, causing some more confusion. However once the story is firmly in the nineteenth century, these confusing elements and random names are dropped to focus on the main characters of the story. Here the plot starts to really take off with the wealth of detail surrounding the setting and the focus on the men and their interactions. The story is at its strongest when focusing on the characters. The time travel aspect is delightful and well written with a lot of humor and charm. The view of London at the time is seen through the eyes of Nash, thus offering the reader a glimpse at how we might see the past ourselves.

Although the book follows the numerous characters, the novelty of having a time traveler from the future in the past, and all the various difficulties and humorous situations that occur there is the additional murder subplot that Nash can’t resist getting involved in. Here the FBI agent decides to solve one of the greatest mysteries of time with the Jack the Ripper murders. Without all the fancy technology of the future, Nash manages to solve this murder by sheer luck, coincidence, and a lot of too easy manipulations. This entire subplot is distracting and totally unnecessary. I wish the story had included an anonymous murder instead of one so famous as the culprit is slightly ridiculous in my opinion and the fact that Nash solves this case through sheer coincidence and story manipulation made this a frustrating element. Additionally Nash is constantly worried about changing the future through incredibly minor details, yet thinks nothing of solving an incredibly high profile murder case that has kept historians fascinated for centuries. Although there is an explanation offered for this, the dichotomy is too much for me to excuse easily unfortunately. Additionally there are a few details and comments regarding the Ripper’s identity and the cover up that don’t match the story as presented.

When the story focuses on the characters, the plot really zips along and has the most entertainment. Here the characterization is wonderful with the smart, sensitive, and charming Ezra. Ezra can see and hear ghosts, which cause quite a bit of derision from Nash initially yet Ezra’s unending patience, gentle personality, and incredible mental and emotional strength make him a great character. He uniquely understands Nash and offers a passionate romance mixed with strong force of will. Ezra doesn’t use his will in the same way Nash does, it’s much more subtle and fitting to his time but Ezra is far from weak. He contrasts beautifully with the arrogant, condescending whirlwind that Nash presents at the beginning. Nash matures from an ass to someone with more maturity, intelligence, and understanding. He initially turns Ezra’s life upside down with very few cares or thoughts to the destruction he causes since it’s all about Nash being right. Once he comes to recognize the difficulties of the time period combined with the personalities of the men, Nash is more sympathetic and understanding. He becomes a likable character, although not totally changed. Together the two have a heated chemistry and entertaining dialogue.

There is also a host of great characters in Ezra’s best friend, Derry. The widowed Irishman offers a charming buffer between the friends and you can practically see the mischievous sparkle in his eye. There is the prissy Henry that struggles with his past and the uptight Kath that tries to keep all the bachelors in line. Brief cameos of other characters compliment a large cast that never overwhelms the story but seems fitting. These characters all accept Ezra and Nash’s homosexuality, and relationship, a little too easily but there are enough elements included in the book that addressing this would have complicated and distracted the main focus on the story.

The writing is strong and clean with good prose, witty dialogue, and three dimensional characters. The details shine in both subtle and more overt ways. I wish the story had focused more on finding the missing spell book, a thread that is virtually ignored sadly, instead of the celebrated mystery. Without the added detail of being a famous murder, following Nash and an unwilling Ezra solve the case is interesting and entertaining. If this had been an anonymous murder, it would have fit easier without distraction or the weak explanation about its affect on the future. There are a few details that didn’t add up to the characters and their situations – such as Ezra not working for 2 full weeks with little to no repercussions – but overall these details are not enough to distract from a solid telling. While I enjoyed Whistling in the Dark more, Downtime is a good story that Allen fans can enjoy until the next book. Pick it up now and indulge in a classic time travel story, with a few twists, that is sure to please.
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