Wed
Jan 18 2012 2:00pm

The Mystery of Time Travel

Time MachineSeriously. Scientists at Cornell University have created a real hole in time, a temporal cloak of sorts, just like the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter. It’s a place where objects are invisible and events are un-recorded. Sure, no humans went in the hole and it only lasted 50 trillionths of a second, which isn’t long enough to do much of anything, but it’s still pretty cool.

This set my mind to wandering—if we can create the invisibility cloak, can Hermione Granger’s time turner be far behind? This led me to think about time travel in crime fiction and how much I love it.  Almost anything can be done or undone in the world of limitless time travel—it’s all about imagination, control and of course, timing. It’s a criminal’s dream.  And if you mess up, you can almost always go back and try again.

I look for three things in my time travel fiction:

  1. There have to be rules that govern the time travel– I don’t care what the rules are, but they can’t change in the middle of the story.
  2. The world has to be expertly rendered so I can suspend my disbelief.
  3. I have to have someone that I want to root for.

With that in mind, here are my favorite crime stories with time travel.

The Eyre AffairJasper Fforde’s, Thursday Next Series, starting with The Eyre Affair

In Jasper Fforde’s wonderfully witty Thursday Next series, the protagonist, a woman called Thursday Next is a special agent. Her job involves traveling in and out of books to protect great literature from bad characters who attempt to destroy it from within.  Her father, a member of an elite time travel team called the Chronoguard, truly travels through time to stop crime. If you haven’t read any of this series, I strongly urge you to start with the first one, The Eyre Affair, where Thursday is charged with protecting the classic novel, Jane Eyre.

ABC’s Once Upon A Time

The Evil Queen in ABC’s Once Upon a Time was able to get an entire town full of fairy tale characters to travel through time to the next generation and into a town called Storybrooke, Maine. Now that’s some serious time traveling. This feat enables this super criminal to control everyone’s lives without their knowledge. But is the Evil Queen really the most dangerous person in this tale? So far this season, Rumplestiltskin has managed to commit murder, arson, kidnap a child and sell stolen goods. There’s no telling what’s next.  

The RevisionistsThe Revisionists by Thomas Mullen

In The Revisionists, an excellent book by Thomas Mullen, good agents and bad agents alike go back in time to either protect the timeline or prevent bad events from happening with weighty ethical consequences for both groups.  Saving a life in the past can alter the future—but does it alter it for better or worse?

Stephen King’s 11/22/63

What if you could go back in time to stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination? That is the premise for the Stephen King novel, 11/22/63. Stephen King and time travel, do you need another reason to read this book?

The Map of Time, by Felix Palma

Felix Palma’s book, The Map Of Time, makes a protagonist out of a reluctant H.G. Wells to investigate potential incidents of time travel in Victorian London. Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and Henry James also live among the fictional characters in this fun, steampunk book.

If you are looking for more time travel fiction, you can check out this wonderful article from The Atlantic on the Brief History of Time-Travel books, from Charles Dickens to Stephen King.

I’m sure I missed a few good ones. What are your favorite time travel stories?

steampunk time machine image from Second Life


Deborah Lacy loves crime fiction a little too much. You can follow her on Twitter (@quippy), if you dare.

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13 comments
1. kuch
LOVE the time travel fiction! What a great topic. Was devestated when "Quantum Leap" went off the air.
2. tylepard
I think "The Time Traveler's Wife" is a glaring omission here, though it's not classified as a mystery. I love that book (though I heard the movie wasn't good).

I just read "A Discovery of Witches", which is the first in a trilogy -- and even though there are cheesy parts that remind me of Twilight (mostly in the witch's descriptions of the handsome vampire), it's a fun read set in present-day England. However, it looks like there's time-travel in the next book (can't say more without spoilers).

Also, "Blackout" is an interesting book with the premise of researchers jumping around in time to study different periods, and the book is set in WWII England. The historical references and storylines are interesting, though the book could have used a better editor (the author ended up splitting her story into two books and I think it could have been cut down into one).
Deborah Lacy
3. DeborahLacy
@kuch - I love Quantum Leap. Have you watched Once Upn a Time? That is a great show.

@tylepard - I loved Time Traveler's Wife, but didn't include it because it isn't mystery fiction, but you're right, I should've at least given it a nod. It is an excellent, excellent book. In fact, I didn't go see the movie on purpose because I didn't want it to conflict with the book in my head.
Thank you for the excellent suggestions - I will check out "A Discovery of Witches," and "Blackout."
Kristin Franseen
4. musichistorygeek
I love the first few books in the Thursday Next series, but have since become frustrated with the latest couple, in which Fforde seems less concerned with the fantastic alternate history he created and more with making clever comments on his beliefs about literature.





(Spoilers for First Among Sequels and One of Our Thursdays is Missing)


It really bothered me how he retconned the Chronoguard and numerous aspects of Jurisfiction and the Great Library. There's also a great deal that goes totally unexplained despite seemingly going against the situation he sets up in-universe, such as the ongoing Sherlock Holmes subplots. He's a great storyteller, but I want to hear more about the stories and characters he's set up, not listen to his views on fanfiction and literary criticism. I understand some continuity issues between the first two books (when he wasn't expecting The Eyre Affair to become a series), but I'm not sure what he's playing at undoing his universe four books into the series.
Deborah Lacy
5. DeborahLacy
@musichistorygeek - I understand what you are saying and the first three books are clearly the best in the series (as in many series). They are amazing. I give Jasper Fforde more lattitude because of the craziness that ensues and how much I enjoy it (but not enough lattitude to get into the Nursury Crimes series or Shades of Grey. For some reason those books just don't do it for me). It shouldn't matter that he didn't intend it to be a series, that's part of the authors job.

Thank you for your comment. I love this kind of back and forth.

(btw - I also love the handle musichistorygeek)
6. Rebecca L
Hey Deb,
Thanks for the suggestions. I've always liked time travel stories but what could be better than mixing it in with my favorite genre.
Terrie Farley Moran
7. Terrie
Okay so how is it I never heard of the Thursday Next series? It sounds like something I would enjoy. And from what musichistorygeek has to say, I am better off starting at the beginning. Then if I don't like how the series changes, at least I've had fun.
Laura K. Curtis
8. LauraKCurtis
OMG, Terrie, Thursday Next is AWESOME! Weird, but so, so cool. My sister-in-law gave me the first three for xmas a few years ago and I gobbled them up.
Deborah Lacy
9. DeborahLacy
@Terrie - follow @Laura's advice immediately. The first one is called the Eyre Affair. They are so funny.
Terrie Farley Moran
10. Terrie
@ Deborah and @ Laura, I just reserved the Eyre Affair at the library. I could use a little funny.
Terrie Farley Moran
11. Terrie
Got the Eyre Affair and am half way through. Great book. Thanks for the recommendation.
Deborah Lacy
12. DeborahLacy
@Terrie - I am so glad you like the Eyre Affair. When you're done you may want to check out the author's website at Jasperfforde.com. It's really funny.
Terrie Farley Moran
13. Terrie
Thanks, Deb, the website is as good as the books.
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