Book Review: A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

In this series debut from Kelley Armstrong, a modern-day homicide detective finds herself in Victorian Scotland—in an unfamiliar body—with a killer on the loose. Read on for Janet Webb's review!

A Rip Through Time has a complicated origin story. Desperate to bid farewell to her beloved grandmother, Canadian homicide detective Mallory travels from her home in Vancouver to Edinburgh. Her Nan hovers between life and death but the mundane intrudes. Mallory wants a break from Nan’s bedside so she whips out to a coffee shop. There she has an unpleasant encounter with a man in line. She inadvertently spills coffee on him and his unpleasant reaction chills her to the bone. That evening, she heads out for a jog, running away from her Nan’s side “as if the Reaper dogged my own heels.” Mallory hears a woman cry out—is it in pleasure or pain? 



Then another cry, this one of pain and surprise, and I bolt from my spot before I realize what I’m doing. I swing into the lane to see . . .




It’s more alley than lane, stacked with boxes and bins for trash pickup.

It gets weirder. She sees “a young woman in an old-fashioned dress struck down by an unseen assailant.” Is it something for the tourists, a video projection on a wall? Her detective’s gut instinct tells her to turn around. She recognizes the man from the coffee shop. When he attempts to strangle her with a rope she fights for her life.

The man yanks again, as if growing impatient. I am taking so long to die. I twist, and down the alley, two figures shimmer. A young woman with honey-blond hair, in a cornflower-blue dress, as a shadowy figure has his hands wrapped around her throat.


The figures vanish, and I fight anew, but I’m off balance and can’t do more than flail.


I’m sorry, Nan. I’m sorry I won’t be with you. I know I promised—


The world goes dark.

Mallory wakes up in Catriona Mitchell’s body. It’s 1869. Catriona is a housemaid in the household of Dr. Duncan Gray, an undertaker. At the end of Catriona’s half-day off, she was strangled and left for dead in the same lane where Mallory was attacked. Mallory has switched bodies with someone from a century and a half earlier. She has the maid’s voice, thank goodness. How would she explain a Canadian accent?  Catriona is clearly some piece of work—a work shirker and a con artist—given how Mrs. Wallace, the housekeeper, and Alice, her fellow maid, treat her. Mallory isn’t permitted to recuperate for long. The housework is physically demanding and above all, Mallory doesn’t know what the hell has happened to her. Said Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Something happened in that lane. Two women were strangled a hundred and fifty years apart. On the same night. In the same spot. I don’t think I heard and saw an echo of the attack on Catriona. I think I saw the attack itself—through a rip in time. I heard her cries. I came running. And when I was attacked in the same manner, time tangled, and I fell into her.


Is Catriona in my body, lying in a twenty-first-century hospital bed? If I get back to where we switched places, can I reverse this?


I will get back there. Right now, though, there’s no escaping. 

Mallory learns that Dr. Gray moonlights as a medical examiner. At midnight, a corpse is delivered by the police. Is Gray a grave robber, examining dead bodies in the interest of science? She hides in the shadows while Detective McCreadie and Dr. Gray examine the corpse.

“The staging is interesting. My concern is the murder, which is terribly pedestrian. Simple strangulation.” Gray lifts something out with what looks like tweezers. “You’re looking for woven rough cord. Hemp, I believe. Likely rope.”


McCreadie lifts something “Like this?”


Dangling from his hand is a length of old rope. Exactly like the one used to strangle me.

If McCreadie can catch the murderer, will that provide a portal that will lead back to 2019 Vancouver? Kelley Armstrong does a magnificent job of contrasting what Mallory knows about criminal investigations with the reality of how it’s done in mid-Edinburgh although the fact that she’s a female servant complicates her ability to assist Dr. Gray. Her boss is mixed-race, not quite the norm for staid Victorian Edinburgh. Perhaps because of that, he has sympathy for a housemaid who exhibits some odd behavior. The new Catriona is forceful and opinionated, not hesitating to proffer her opinion about the case Dr. Gray is working on. He doesn’t dismiss her out of hand but invites her to chime in.

The most challenging relationship for Mallory/Catriona is with Dr. Gray’s widowed sister Isla. Isla has Catriona’s number and although she sees a difference in Catriona’s attitude, her price for meeting Catriona halfway is the return of a cherished necklace; a necklace Catriona stole from her and sold to a pawnbroker. Do that and they’ll talk. One can only guess at how lonely it must be to be a stranger in a strange land at a strange time. Mallory confides in Isla, setting up some hilarious conversations. Isla is her brother’s equal in courage, intrepid and determined to be part of Catriona’s investigation.

“What kind of ID do you carry?” I ask.


Isla startles from her reading. “ID?”


“Identification. You won’t have a driver’s license, predating cars here. Probably not a passport either. You don’t hop on planes or zip from country to country. Health card? I think we predate free health care, too.”


“You do love doing that.”


“Doing what?”


“Teasing me with words and concepts I do not know. You realize that I am going to ask you to explain each, and then you’ll demand some personal information in return. It is a very clever game.”


“It would be, if I had any intention of explaining myself. Can’t, though. Butterfly effect.”

The butterfly effect involves time travel and the idea that one’s actions in the past could have catastrophic effects in the future. Mallory/Catriona is stuck in the Edinburgh of 1869 but she’s determined to return to 2019 Vancouver. A Rip Through Time has been described as Outlander meets The Alienist. It has a decided Canadian twist, perhaps not surprising because many Scots emigrated to Canada a century ago. Is it because of Mallory’s closeness to her Scottish Nan that she doesn’t feel like a complete fish out of water in Edinburgh? Stay tuned.

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