Book Review: Betrayal in Time by Julie McElwain
By Doreen SheridanJuly 16, 2019
Betrayal in Time is the fourth book in Julie McElwain’s Kendra Donovan series. Donovan’s adventures in nineteenth-century England continue when she is called upon to investigate the murder of a spymaster.
My only regret in picking up this novel is that I hadn’t been able to read the three others in the series first. And that’s a lot to say given that Betrayal In Time is, apart from being a terrific mystery novel, a Regency romance and a book about time travel, two genres that can seem fairly played out in the 21st century. Fortunately, Julie McElwain skillfully weaves together these seemingly disparate themes to create a wholly original and entertaining series, starring FBI Agent Kendra Donovan, who somehow managed to travel back in time and is now solving crimes, using her formidable skills and training, in Regency England.
In the months since she first appeared in the 19th century, Kendra has managed to become the ward of the influential and kind Duke of Aldridge, who claims that she’s the daughter of a close American friend. She’s also found herself falling in love with the duke’s nephew, Alexander Morgan, the Marquis of Sutcliffe, feelings that are passionately returned. These relationships are only some of the things causing her resolve to remember that she is merely a visitor to this time to waver:
She was out the front door before it occurred to her to bring [her maid] with her as her chaperone. Then she was a little annoyed that such a thing had occurred to her at all. Whether she liked it or not, the ridiculous, backward rules for women in this era were beginning to seep into her consciousness. I need to adapt, but I don’t want to lose myself.
A shiver that had nothing to do with the chilly outside temperature raced down her arms. Once you started giving up pieces of yourself here and there in order to adapt to society’s rules, how long before you had nothing left?
In this fourth book of the series, it’s a cold February morning when the naked body of Sir Giles Holbrooke is found garroted in an abandoned church with its tongue cut out. When strange markings resembling crucifixes rise up on the corpse’s skin in response to heat, Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly knows it’s time to consult with the odd but brilliant young woman he’s worked with in the very recent past. Kendra is, of course, more than happy to oblige. Doing her job, no matter how primitive the technology and constraining the societal expectations, is one of the few things keeping her sane in the face of the sheer impossibility of her situation. Fortunately, she has the support of both her guardian and her lover, though the latter especially takes it amiss when she throws herself in the way of bodily harm in order to pursue leads.
And leads there are aplenty, as Sir Giles was one of England’s most notable politicians and royalist defenders, both positions that obscured his real font of power as spymaster overseeing England’s involvement in various wars. Add to this a troubled family life, and there’s no shortage of suspects ready to do the man in. Kendra must pull out all the stops to investigate the murder as only a highly trained FBI agent constrained by a 19th-century ballgown can do.
A large part of the appeal of this novel comes from the character of Kendra herself. Resourceful, if blunt, Kendra doesn’t have time for anyone’s nonsense, not even her own:
Curious, Kendra picked up a lumpy package. Mrs. Middleton’s complexion soap listed among its ingredients animal oils, rosewater, lye, and mercuric chloride. Shaking her head, she put the package back on the shelf. Mercuric chloride was a poisonous form of mercury. And in this era, people were washing their faces with it.
Then again, Kendra had to remember that she’d come from a time when people paid a bundle to inject themselves with Botox—derived from Clostridium botulinum, one of the most lethal toxins known to mankind. Who was she to judge?
Her refreshing self-awareness makes it easy to root for her as she navigates gritty crime scenes and glittering ballrooms with various degrees of aplomb, on her way to uncovering a murderer whose motivations lie both in a tragic past and an equally heart-wrenching present.
. . . a feminist fish out of water tale that doesn’t shy away from questioning not only the worst of society but also the potential harm of our own best intentions.
Betrayal in Time does something really fresh with the mystery, time travel, and Regency romance genres, melding them all together with wit and heart to create a feminist fish out of water tale that doesn’t shy away from questioning not only the worst of society but also the potential harm of our own best intentions. It’s a great balance of smarts with sheer entertainment value, and one of the most unusual, and fun, murder mysteries I’ve read in a long time.