Mon
Apr 10 2017 11:00am

Review: A Twist in Time by Julia McElwain

A Twist in Time by Julia McElwain is the 2nd book in the Kendra Donovan series, where—stranded in 1815—the former FBI agent must clear the name of the Duke of Aldridge's nephew, who has been accused of brutally murdering his ex-mistress.

I am a sucker for a novel featuring a strong female lead involved in law enforcement. Add some wibbly wobbly time travel and a good dose of feminism, and you have an irresistible combo. So when I first read Julia McElwain’s novel A Murder in Time, featuring the brilliant and prodigal FBI profiler Kendra Donovan, I knew I was in for a treat. 

In McElwain’s 1st novel, Kendra goes on a rogue investigation that lands her (via wormhole) in 1815’s England. She finds herself wrapped up in the hunt for a serial killer. It was hard to wait a year to read McElwain’s follow up, A Twist in Time. Both novels are fairly long, but the 400-page length isn’t daunting. Once you get into the mystery, you want to experience Kendra’s world as long as you can.

McElwain doesn’t bog you down with historical details or lengthy descriptions, instead her series is filled with snappy dialogue and tense action scenes. A Murder in Time and A Twist in Time are shockingly fast-paced reads that are binge-able and fun. If the Outlander series were written by Lisa Gardner, this would be the result. 

In Julie McElwain’s latest entry, A Twist in Time, we meet an irritated Kendra Donovan, whose attempt to get back to her own time has failed. When Duke of Aldridge's nephew is accused of murder, Kendra quickly shifts into FBI agent mode to clear his name. What follows is a fast-paced murder investigation throughout London.

Kendra is not the type to fantasize about a different life—or a different century—so she finds the idea of being stuck in 1815 vexing and, frankly, terrifying. Admittedly, Kendra has found a generous and adoring ally in the Duke of Aldridge, who has given her the new title of “ward to the Duke of Aldridge.” Kendra is now considered English gentry and must get a new wardrobe and maid to match.

Kendra also finds a confidant in the Duke’s nephew, who soon become her lover, adding some spice and passion to the seemingly cold Kendra. The scenes with Alec showcase Julie McElwain’s skill as a writer and punctuate Kendra’s otherness. It is clear how much Alec loves Kendra, but Kendra fights her attraction to him. Alec is constantly asking Kendra to marry him, and even though Kendra postpones her wormhole experiments to clear Alec’s name and even risks her life for him, Kendra keeps reminding Alec that her time with him is only temporary.

McElwain makes Alec pretty hard to resist, so it is a little hard to believe that Kendra doesn’t just take him up on his offer. But it is clear how seriously Kendra takes her job as criminal profiler, and love would only be a distraction. Kendra’s reliance on both of these men is a distressing reminder of how different life is in the 19th century.

Kendra quickly realizes that her investigation is significantly hindered by stereotypes and etiquette of the era. She must learn about their strange class system that requires calling cards, proper introductions, and, well, a husband. Kendra often seems whiny and aggravated by these obstacles of class and gender. But Kendra is a highly intelligent, badass FBI agent; it has to be completely frustrating to have her power taken away. Throughout the entire novel, Kendra fights against misconceptions of her sex. She has to prove herself to everyone she meets and teach those around her not to underestimate women.

The road bumps in the investigation constantly reminded Kendra that this isn’t a dream and that she is now actually living in the 19th century.

“I was the youngest recruit at Quantico. You know that. I’m damn good at what I do … did. Shit.”

Through bold and crass language Julia McElwain uses to describe Kendra’s frustration makes it very clear. 

Son of a bitch.

“Yer only a woman,” someone muttered.

Kendra leveled a stare at the man. “Correction, asshole. I’m an excellent shot.”

This jarring use of swears constantly pull you out of the time period, and perhaps that is the point. It is a reminder that Kendra isn’t where she belongs.  Kendra’s brash mannerisms and ignorance of social customs shock the 19th-century inhabitants—luckily and hilariously they shrug off her behavior because she is simply a “vulgar American.” 

The murder mystery in A Twist In Time is not as well put together as in A Murder in Time, but it is a propulsive read. While A Murder in Time made me want to travel along with Kendra, solving cases in any century she finds herself, A Twist in Time brought out a very different woman. Kendra’s shock at being stuck in the 19th century turned to complete annoyance, and every action was like she is only going through the motions until she could get back to her own century.

To that end, the biggest flaw of the book (other than some historical inaccuracies) is that Kendra never again makes plans or attempts to go back to her own time. Even though Kendra often talks about trying to find a way back to the future, there is no further attempts to do so and the prelude of the FBI trying to find Kendra is not brought up again. Despite its flaws, Julie McElwain’s A Twist in Time is a tense page-turner with an excellent dose of feminism, social commentary, and badassery.

 

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Shailyn Tavella is a book publicist and chocoholic. When she isn’t binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she can be found tweeting about books and linguistics at @Shailyn_T.

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