BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Talon Avalon, a near-future Chicago cop “timecaster” who uses a device to see into the past, attempts to solve a murder for which he appears to be the culprit.
PROS: Non-stop action; prose whips along and is easily consumed; just plain fun to read.
CONS: Believability is stretched quite far and will disappoint those looking for a character with more a realistic constitution.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent popcorn book.
It’s obvious from the opening paragraphs of Joe Kimball’s near-future action novel Timecaster that this is a book meant to entertain. Kimball’s breezy writing style immediately sets the tone right at the outset and the protagonist’s first-person narrative is delivered with just the right amount of attitude.
And why wouldn’t it be? Talon Avalon, a near-future Chicago cop, is mere hours away from being accused of the mass murder of nearly half a million residents of Boise, Idaho. This is not only strange because Talon’s a peace officer, but also because crime in this eco-friendly near-future is nearly non-existent thanks to the invention of the TEV (tachyon emission visualizer), a device that let’s the user see into the past. Once the TEV made it easy for criminals to be caught, they mostly stopped committing crimes. These days, peace officers like Talon (one of the last 2 working timecasters) spend the bulk of their time giving lectures to schoolchildren. Talon also occupies his time obsessing over his wife’s job as a state-licensed prostitute. Things change when one of his wife’s clients asks Talon to investigate a possible murder. When Talon dusts off the TEV to investigate, he’s shocked to find that there was indeed a murder…and he himself committed the crime.
Since Talon knows he did not commit the crime, he begins to search for the truth. In fact, given that his professional life has been rather dull lately, he’s actually excited to be investigating a murder. The trick is to do so before the authorities find out. (They do, and then the sparks really begin to fly.) Talon soon learns that he’s the unwitting pawn in a game being run by a mysterious psychotic.
Only part of the fun derived from reading Timecaster is about guessing the mastermind’s identity; the majority of pleasure comes from the non-stop action and the smack-talking Talon. Whether dealing with spineless wimps, the jealous ex-partner out to capture him, antagonistic brutes hopped up on hyper-steroids, or even (in two odd scenes) a “Bleeding Heart Volunteer” who also happens to be a nymphomaniac, Talon never loses his ability to call it like it is, even when the physical challenges he presented with seem impossible to overcome. This makes for some humorous (and thankfully not distracting) moments.
It should be noted that, although seeing into the past is involved, Timecaster is not a novel about time travel. The TEV technology is a convenient plot device with which to propel the story. It also offers some cool scenes where the tech is put to good use. There are also other futuristic hi-tech gadgets that come into play, each one used to good effect. (Although the suspension-of-disbelief jury is still out on the Tesla generators that provide wireless power.) Timecaster also makes no bones about being an eco-punk novel, a worldbuilding decision that adds yet another level of enjoyment. I’d put Timecaster comfortably on the same shelf as Eric Garcia’s Repossession Mambo and Patrick Lee’s Travis Chase series; all of these books are equally fun.
It’s hard to find much fault in a book that made me want to keep coming back to it so often. If there’s any downside, it’s that the driving adrenalin rush meant to entertain does so at the possible expense of believability. Talon incurs a seemingly never-ending series of physical challenges and circumstances, each one more impossible than the last. For diehard readers of realism, the events of the book simply don’t hold well to scrutiny. Additionally, the occasional tongue-in-cheek commentary may not fly with some readers taking them too literally (including the authors reference to his real name, J.A. Konrath). But with Timecaster, if you’re looking that closely, you’re probably missing the point, which is to sit back and enjoy the ride.