Timeline by Michael Crichton

14th century metal helmet
Helmet topped a metal outfit.

In Michael Crichton’s Timeline, an American company has discovered how to exploit the properties of quantum physics to send people back in time to study history. ITC lures archeologists studying a 14th French century site to be time-travel guinea pigs.

When archeology project’s director disappears near where within days the French and English will fight an historic battle, four of his associates are zapped back in time to look for him. In France, the four young people get separated.

Preparing for battle, both armies are wary of strangers who may be spies for their opponents.

Back in the US, the transporter equipment is out of order. Even if it’s repaired quickly, the archeologists may not be saved: Sometimes transportation has nasty side effects.  ITC’s CEO is too busy practicing his spiel to attract new investors to worry about getting the researchers back to 20th century America.

Crichton keeps the American story in hand, but lets the story in France get hopelessly muddled. Besides the confusion of two armies in the field and the noncombatants scrambling to get out of the way, Crichton adds secret passages, coded messages, and deep dungeons until he turns his extensive research into farce.

Timeline by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1999. 450 p.
1999 bestseller #5; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The House on the Strand lacks curb appeal

In The House on the Strand, an historical novel meets a sci-fi novel.

Medieval Cornwall coast scene on novel cover
This bestseller mixes ’60 drug culture into history.

The two don’t get along well.

Dick Young gladly accepts the offer of longtime friend’s Cornwall estate, Kilmarth, for his family for the summer. Dick and Magnus were in university together and remained close until Dick’s marriage.

Dick’s wife, Vita, disliked Magnus from their first meeting.

Magnus, an academic researcher, has secretly stumbled upon a drug that takes people back in time.

Magnus wants Dick to take it and report his findings.

The first dose transports Dick back the Kilmarth environs in the 14th century. Each time he takes a dose, he becomes more interested in the historical figures than in his own era.

When Magnus is found dead, apparently after attempting to commit suicide, the story twists to a halt.

Daphne du Maurier provides diagrams showing who married whom, but readers need a guide to who is sleeping with whom to make sense of the historical part of the book.

The 20th century portion makes more sense, but even though du Maurier has Dick narrate the story, both plots feel detached from him. Sadly, Du Maurier’s characters have no more personality than figures in someone else’s nightmare.

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
Doubleday, 1969. Book club edition, 308 pp. 1969 bestseller #10. My grade: C.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni