Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Review – “Portal to Murder” by Michele Acker

In the middle of the 21st century, felon Michael Spinner is given the chance of a lifetime—he can redeem his future by. traveling back in time to kill the man who ruined his life.

Meanwhile, at the start of the 21st century, homicide detective Jennifer Castle. is stymied by an impossible case. Several people—including a pregnant woman and her unborn child—have been killed by a weapon that simply doesn't exist.

As the bodies pile up around her, Jennifer finds herself caught in a battle of wits with an elusive killer from the future who seems determined to destroy her career, her lovelife, her family—even her very existence...
I have always had a fondness for stories involving time travel and enjoy mysteries as well, so when an opportunity to review Portal to Murder, which blended the two, came up, I decided to give it a whirl. For the most part this is a very traditional police procedural novel with an SF twist.

Jennifer Castle is a single thirty-something detective with the homicide division in Sacramento. Castle and her younger partner Eddie Dover are called in to investigate the mysterious death of a man in the bathroom of the local Gray Hound bus station. Their only witness to the event is a drunken homeless man that says he saw an ‘alien’ walk through a wall whose account they dismiss. Their investigation leads them to some very highly placed public officials, a blackmail scheme and several associated murders.

The crime story is interspersed with chapters set twenty years in the future where we are introduced to the shady characters that are seeking to harness a newly discovered time travel discovery to exact revenge in the past and change their own futures. Portal to Murder stays strongly on target, telling a gripping murder mystery where everything is connected, past and future, victims, investigators and culprits. The time travel is ably handled but is not the crux of the story, nor is the science behind it the central focus.

The joy of the story as the reader - is seeing the big picture from both sides, knowing time travel explains certain circumstances while watching Castle and her partner having to find rationale explanations and put forth theories that fit the crime without treading into X-Files territory. Even when confronted with some future technology (a compact laser weapon), Castle finds a present-day reason for its existence. Sometimes you wanted to shout at them, because of course as the reader you know, but of course in real life rarely do people entertain Sherlock Holmes’ theory of “when all other explanations have been eliminated, whatever is left, no matter how bizarre, must be the correct one”.

Characterizations and dialogue seemed very real-world, very grounded and natural, and Castle does her job without superhuman heroics. Portal to Murder takes the time, building the smaller scenes to explore our main characters as well as some of the minor players and lets us get to know and care about them. There are some nice bittersweet moments too as we are left with some foreshadowing of Castle’s future (via the future glimpses). She remains unaware of her fate through to the conclusion of the story and it leaves you wondering if indeed her actual future will unfold as predicted.

Portal for Murder delivers plenty of the twists, turns and minor paradoxes expected of a time travel tale mixed with a solid murder mystery plot. If you are looking for a fresh crime novel only a little off the beaten path and enjoy a little SF too, Portal to Murder just may be what you are looking for. And to solve the puzzle of whether the secret of time travel is revealed to Castle and do the bad guys succeed in their manipulation of the future, you will have to read for yourself!


Official Michele Acker Website

Virtual Tales
Published: November 2008
ISBN #: 9780980150643
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 258

Read an excerpt.

Michele Acker is an editor for both Dragon Moon Press and Aberrant Dreams magazine. Many of her short stories have been published in anthologies, including A Firestorm of Dragons (which Ms. Acker assembled and helped edit), Arcane Whispers, (a 2008 Eppie & Tiptree Finalist), A Time To...The Stygian Soul, Chimeraworld #2 and F/SF. Michele is also a contributing author for The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy and The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction (2008 Eppie Award Winner & Foreword Magazine finalist). Other articles by Ms. Acker have appeared in The Writer Magazine, Writing-World.com and many e-zines and newsletters.


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