Marnie Calvert, FBI agent in Patrick Lee’s “Signal,” smells the bodies before she sees them. A trailer is burned to a crisp, with not much left except a cage holding the corpses of four children. The owner of the trailer is missing.
Sam Dryden’s background includes special ops training with the military. He has left that life behind and now flips houses. His ordinary, peaceful evening is interrupted by a call from trusted former colleague in the military, Claire Dunham. She makes an urgent request of Sam: get in the car immediately and meet her in a spot that is two hours away. Once together, they drive to the trailer at breakneck speed and keep the owner from burning it and everyone in it. When Sam and Claire leave the area, the only corpse is the owner’s.
Yes, you read that correctly. Calvert, Dryden and Dunham have arrived at the same crime scene – just not at the same time and with very different results. The race against, through, and with time, begins.
Patrick Lee’s paradigms of time travel/time shifting are intriguing and part of what compels me to return to his books. Not every book uses time as a plot device, but I love the way Lee’s mind works. In his Travis Chase series, people traveled through a doorway in time to the future and back again. In “Signal,” Lee’s main characters listen to a radio frequency on a device that streams what is reported on the airwaves from the future – a very specific period of time in the future. In this world, time is fluid and actions can be changed before they happen.
Imagine if that power was held by people with decades to plan and reshape the future for their own agendas? Nothing good could come of it. Murder, kidnapping, torture? They’ll do anything to get the device that led Claire to the trailer.
In “Signal,” Lee deftly handles the time paradox challenges of adjusting actions in response to hearing the consequences. Any modification in events affects everyone in the timeline continuum for all time, and Lee uses that effectively to keep us absorbed. He gives us just enough information about how it all works without too much science-speak or theory that might take us out of the story.
Whose reality will control the tale? Can this knowledge ever be used for good? If your “enemy knows your mistakes before you make them,” how can you survive the battle? The answers will keep you turning the pages all night long, because “Signal” is flat out stay-awake reading. And not just because of the time-travel component or the pulse-pounding action. Lee’s characters have depth, a back story, and believable reasons for what they do, be it for good or very questionable motives.
Clear your schedule, turn off the computer and the phone (gasp), and be prepared to read straight through to the perfect finish.
I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Lee at a recent writer’s conference and he graciously signed my copy of “Signal.” He signed “Ghost Country,” from the Travis Chase series as well and you can read that review here.
For information about Patrick Lee, the terrific first Sam Dryden book, “Runner,” and his other series, please visit www.patrickleefiction.com
The “Outlander” series, by Diana Gabaldon, has been a sensation in the historical fiction arena, blending time-travel, romance, and adventure into one terrific story. Why do we love “Outlander?” It’s well-written, crosses genres beautifully, and the broad sweep of the storyline is just plain fun.
Claire Randall is a former combat nurse, home from WW2 in 1945. She has been reunited with her husband, Frank, and they are enjoying a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands after a long, war-caused separation. On the lookout for interesting flowers and herbs, she wanders into a circle of ancient stones said to be the legendary Merlin stones, touches one of the stones and disappears. That is, disappears from 1945 and pops up in 1743 – right into the middle of the Jacobite rebellion, with Bonnie Prince Charlie attempting to take over the throne of England.
With her English and slightly alien accent, she is soon called Sassenach (an outlander) by the MacKenzie clan that rescues her from an assault by a British soldier (her husband’s ancestor) and is suspected by everyone of being a spy. But, for whom? Her rescuers, in part to use her as a bargaining chip, keep her hostage.
Her skill as a healer is discovered when she meets injured Jamie Fraser and that ensures her safety until her fate can be decided. “Outlander” reveals Gabaldon’s tremendous amount of research into the uses of botanicals for healing both in 1945 and two hundred years earlier. We are treated to descriptions of herbs, the drugs available in both centuries, the limits of medicine in the 1700s, the choices available, and even the handling of prisoners. The wisdom of the modern medical era is applied to herbal remedies of the 1700s, but often, Claire just has to make do.
Gabaldon has written the developing relationship between Claire and Jamie realistically within the constraints of the time travel strand. Claire can’t reveal when she is really from – nobody would understand it – and Jamie does not quite trust her since her circumstances don’t really ring true. Claire has a modern sense of humor and Jamie is puzzled by her references to John Wayne and her cursing. And, yet, they each feel an attraction as they are thrown together repeatedly during the action. The complexity of Scottish clan rivalry is explored, alliances for and against the British are created, and Claire occasionally uses her knowledge of history to protect the people in her immediate circle.
“Outlander” succeeds in part because of its intimate portrait of a marriage, with its moments of personal truths, physical intimacy, enduring love, and sometimes hilarious banter. Two strong-willed people are forced into a union of convenience in order to save their lives and the relationship is raw and wonderful. There are sometimes tender and sometimes rough, bedroom scenes between Jamie and Claire. There are graphic descriptions of an attempted rape as well as an actual rape with another character. Gabaldon does not mince words, so be forewarned that this is well-done adult reading.
The Jacobite rebellion and the surrounding political turmoil drive the tale, but it’s the characters that keep us spellbound until the last page. There are good guys and bad, some of whom are both in order to survive in a dangerous political climate, and one who is undeniably evil. We don’t always know whom to trust. The supporting characters are colorful, complex, as well as entertaining, and add depth and realism to the multi-layered plot.
The time travel is brilliantly handled. Claire tries on multiple occasions to return to the stones in order to get back to her own time, but as she falls more deeply in love with Jamie, she is torn between leaving him and her responsibility to the husband she left behind. Along the way, she discovers that she may not be the only person who has traveled through the stones.
I laughed during the engaging dialogue, cringed at the choices that needed to be made and cried during some desperate moments for more than one character. When the book ended, I was very happy that there were more titles in the series to be read.
The novel won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991. The first seven books in the series sold over twenty million copies and landed on the NYT bestseller lists six times. The eighth book in the series was published in June, 2014. A TV series based on the first book, “Outlander,” debuted in the USA in August, 2014.
For more information about Diana Gabaldon and her work, please visit www.dianagabaldon.com