1Time travel fiction is notoriously difficult to write, fraught as it is with complicated theoretical rules related to grandfather paradoxes and butterfly effects.  It is, on the other hand, relatively simple to write if you merely pay lip service to said rules and then proceed to either ignore or violate them over the course of your narrative. And that’s what we have here: a time travel novel for non time-travel-savvy readers.  It’s like sitting down to watch the 1978 Dr. Strange t.v. movie and being dazzled by the visual effects.  Most viewers are a little more knowledgeable but, hey, I’m sure there a few under-rock-dwelling neophytes who might actually consider it a singular achievement.

Truth be told, the time travel conceit at the very heart of this book is one of several problems with The Rich and the Dead.   So, let’s start at the top…

Former Miami police detective Lila Day is haunted by the case she was never able to solve, the mass murder of twelve of the city’s wealthiest.  They were all found, shot to death in a mansion on Star Island.  It was a massacre that sent shockwaves throughout the world when it was discovered inferred that the deceased made up the roster of the famed Janus Society.  Yes, THE Janus Society, the secret group that would annually bestow hundreds of millions of dollars on a single charity.  When the Star Island murders happened to coincide with the abrupt cessation of the gargantuan contributions, people put two and two together and realized: Hey, all those rich dead people were probably the Janus Society!  Because Miami’s rich are much more altruistic and generous than the average city’s wealthy denizens.

A two year investigation went nowhere.  “How is this possible?”you may ask. “What elaborately brilliant plan did the murderer execute that allowed him/her to kill twelve powerful individuals and get away with it?”  Well, prepare to be amazed by the answer!

Lila is given a second chance at solving the murders by wealthy billionaire Teddy Hawkins and his personal time machine.  Yes, it’s true!  He has a time machine! And he proves it to Lila by sending her a copy of the next day’s paper.  Lila is understandably dubious until she sees the lottery results.  And then, in classic cartoon timing, immediately turns on the television and gets that night’s lottery numbers…the exact same numbers!  Thus proving that wealthy billionaire Teddy Hawkins has the resources to rig a lottery draw build himself a time machine!

Teddy offers to send Lila back in time where she will go undercover as wealthy socialite Camilla Dayton, infiltrate the Janus Society, and catch the killer. Unfortunately, she can’t save the victims because, of course, doing so would alter “the present in unimaginable ways”.  The rules of time travel are inviolable!  So – to reiterate – she can’t alter the past by trying to save its victims.  Or interact with her past self. But it’s perfectly fine for her to spend three months interacting with the past environment and finagling her way into a secret society she wasn’t originally a part of.  So much for “the butterfly effect”.  I guess some time travel rules are more inviolable than others.

Before she travels back into the past, we are treated to the following exchange that caused me to throw the book across the room (after which I picked it up and resumed reading because it was our book of the month club pick and you were all expecting a review):

Lila: “Will I lose those months of my life here?” (Stupid question, right?  It’s a freakin’ time travel machine not a trip to Hawaii!  You can come right back to the point at which you left.  Hell, you can come back five minutes earlier if you like!)

Teddy: “Wormholes don’t work the same in both directions.  It’ll be a few days here, not a few months.” (Wait!  WHAT?!  A few days?!  Wormholes?  WTF?!)

Lila travels back in time where she befriends one of the members of the Janus Society, a young Paris Hilton-like socialite named Effie who becomes her “in” to Miami high society, a group made up of incredibly shallow and stupid individuals who, incongruously, are also intelligent and magnanimous enough to create the Janus Society and help the world.

Lila begins her investigation.  She uncovers shocking details about suspects that, for some reason, she was unable to discover the first time around – and rather obvious information at that.  I guess this explains why the murders went unsolved for two years.  Her incompetence AND the murderer’s brilliant plan (Wait for it!). For instance, she discovers that Scott, husband of one of the murder victims, probably isn’t responsible because he’d signed a prenup and wouldn’t have financially benefited from his wife’s demise.  Seriously.  This ISN’T something that happened to cross her desk in those two years?

The investigation deepens!  Preposterous developments abound!

Shockingly, she ends up meeting the past version of her benefactor, Teddy.  I say “shockingly” because, despite the fact that Teddy obviously runs in the same social circles, he never thought to prepare Lila for the possibility and she never thought to ask.

One of her suspects, a gay art dealer, brings her to a meeting with a corrupt Mexican custom official and pretends she’s his girlfriend.  Why would he do this? Why doesn’t he just ask her to play along BEFORE the meeting if it’s that important to him?  To quote Cookie Monster: “Shhhh.  Shhhh.  Shhhh.”.

She spends time with a repulsive Russian gangster who is such an over-the-top misogynistic buffoon that you want to scream: “Yeah, okay!  I get it!  He’s BAD!”.  Subtle this aint.

She also allows herself to fall in love with some guy (Always a great idea when you travel back in time).

Ultimately, her three month investigation comes to naught so he has to scramble over to Star Island in time for the murders.  Yes, that’s right.  The entire three month investigation was a complete waste of time.  Teddy could have just sent her back to the murder scene five minutes before the killings took place and it would have amounted to the same thing.  All she has to do is park herself out front and catch the killer in the act.

And she can’t even do that!  Instead, she ends up in a locked room and doesn’t find her way out until seconds after the murder takes place.

So, Lila travels back to the present (which, for some bizarre reason, is actually a few days into her future) and tells Teddy she failed.  Now they’ll never find out who the murderer was. 🙁

(Well, hang on.  Isn’t that time travel machine still working?  Couldn’t you just go back to five minutes before the murder and, instead of crawling in through the basement window and ending up in a locked room, position yourself elsewhere? Say in the bushes outside the front gate so you can see who leaves seconds after the murder is committed?  In fact, instead of going through the whole rigamarole of this ridiculous three month investigation, wouldn’t that have been the easiest way to go since there was nothing she could have done to save those victims in the first place?  No?  Anybody?  Hello?).

But wait!  Lila looks up her long lost love and, in a twist that nobody everybody saw coming, it turns out that HE is the murderer!  But how?  And why?

At which point we are treated to a long implausible info dump that details the inane workings of the Janus Society which, we discover, also happens to be a sort of murder club.  Because that’s, I guess, what philanthropists do.  Help AND kill people.  That’s why it’s called The JANUS Society.  Get it?!

But wait!  What was the elaborate plot that allowed him to kill twelve of Miami’s wealthiest and get away with it?

Are you ready?

He killed the lights and then used his night vision goggles to find everyone and shoot them.  Then he drove away.  Brilliant, huh?

But wait!  Even though the murderer admitted everything to Lila, there is no actual evidence to convict him.  UNLESS – he admits everything in court.  But why would he do that?  Well…because…LOVE.

THE END

A tremendous achievement in mediocrity.

20 thoughts on “May 5, 2014: Our Book of the Month Club reconvenes! Let’s discuss The Rich and the Dead!

  1. Liv Spector is the next Dan Brown! And by that, I mean this is a terrible book.

    I hate it when authors describe a character as some sort of genius. That’s always a warning sign to me, because unless you yourself are a genius, you will have a very hard time writing a character who is. If you don’t have the extraordinary insight, the specialized knowledge, or the observational capacities that need to be on the page to sell the “genius” illusion, your character will never be believable, especially to readers who are smarter than you and your supposedly hyperintelligent protagonist.

    Consequently, I began to worry when, on page 14, I read this about our heroine, Lila Day:

    She was famous among the force for her preternatural ability to know who was guilty, who was innocent, and how to tease out the truth. When cops and prosecutors asked her how she was able to solve tough cases before anyone else, she’d just shrug. In her mind, there was nothing to it. Her only confusion was why it took everyone else so long to figure things out.

    That’s a tall order for our protagonist to live up to. And does she? Not even close. This woman has to be one of the worst detectives I’ve ever read. When she goes back in time and begins to meet various members of the Janus Society (the super-duper-secret society all the murder victims belonged to), she finds it odd that there’s this guy, Dylan, whom all the victims know and associate with semi-regularly, but whom she has never heard of. She, who investigated this crime obsessively for over 2 years. She, who supposedly interviewed any- and everyone who had anything to do with the murder victims. She should immediately be suspicious of him and think of him as a new potential suspect. But she doesn’t. Why not? Because he’s hot.

    No, instead of investigating him, she falls in love with him. And when she tries to save him from being shot and paralyzed 5 days before the murder, despite the fact that he’s acting strange before the shooting, and despite the fact that the “random”, drive-by shooting mysteriously happens 3 hours before it happened in the original timeline (presumably because of her interference), it never strikes her as suspicious. Only by sheer dumb luck (when she guiltily confesses her failed rescue attempt to her time-travel patron Teddy upon her empty-handed return to the present) do the pieces get put together, and by someone other than the “genius” detective!

    The Dan Brown aspects of the book are even worse than the egregious mischaracterization of Lila Day as a remotely smart person. Take, for example, the super-duper-secret society at the heart of the crime Lila must solve:

    Founded in the infancy of the twentieth century, the Janus Society was an international charitable organization whose works were so admired that it had come to be known as the world’s fairy godmother. Thanks to its donations, famines had been stopped, polio nearly eradicated, the ancient libraries of Timbuktu preserved, the Bolshoi Ballet saved from bankruptcy, oil spills contained, children educated, faltering economies salvaged, dying languages preserved, and on and on.

    Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? If these super-rich people do such great things, they couldn’t possibly be anything less than saintly, could they? Not even if they call themselves the Janus Society? I don’t know about you, but the first thing I think of when I hear the name Janus is “two-faced”. But not Lila! She persists to the end in thinking the society purely philanthropic and its members “innocent victims”. Liv Spector even tries to justify Lila’s denseness by telling us the society “had been named for a Roman god, the god of beginnings…” as if that were all any normal person would think of when contemplating the society’s name. Sorry, Ms. Spector, but readers are, shockingly, often well read – much more so, at least, than your moronic detective.

    The parallels between any Dan Brown book and this one are numerous: the super-duper-secret society whose dealings are a mystery; the outrageously nefarious activities of this super-duper-secret society, behind the scenes of their very public, very sizable charitable gifts; the seemingly innocent friend/associate of the protagonist who’s secretly a part of the nefarious super-duper-secret society and will put the protagonist in mortal danger at the climax; the endgame info-dump to explain all the nefarious goings-on that the detective was too thick to understand without the antagonist’s expositional monologue, which he feels compelled to give rather than just killing her and skipping town. Hell, it even has chapters that are only 2 pages in length – just like Dan Brown!

    And don’t even get me started on the stupid treatment of time travel in this book. That Teddy warns Lila not to meet herself, kill anyone, or try to prevent anyone from being killed, lest she screw up the timeline, and then proceeds to send her back to live in the past, amongst the murder victims, for THREE MONTHS is Exhibit A for how incoherent the plot is.

    If you want an easy, quick read, and you’re not picky about your plot making sense or your protagonist having a brain, you might like this book. Otherwise, stay away. Stay far, far away.

  2. It’s Allie’s birthday. She’s no longer a teenager. My baby is TWENTY!

    And my in-laws just flew in from California. I’ll try to get on later tonight to share my thoughts about The Rich and the Dead.

    Right now I need to don a party hat and party down at The Mellow Mushroom.

  3. So… you’re saying I shouldn’t bother trying to finish the book? 🙂

    I did kind of wanted to like it because in a way I enjoyed the pulpy writing style of the author, but I agree it just wasn’t a book that I wanted to keep picking up and read – thus my non-completion. That’s always the problem with time travel stories, once you allow for that capability it’s very hard to keep the story logical. I too thought immediately when it was suggested that she go back to MONTHS before the murder, why not just go back to the murder scene? Wouldn’t that save a lot of effort? Well, you wouldn’t have a book then though, would you! I find many movies have this same kind of problem – a simple, obvious possible solution is ignored for something complicated in order to justify the plot points. Ugh.

  4. I am ever so glad that I did not pick up this book. I probably would have trudged through it hoping it would get better.

    But I really enjoyed reading Joe and Kathode’s reviews!

    @whoviantrish: My baby turned twenty in December. She was looking forward to being able to say “Those teenagers…..!”

  5. While reading your review Joe, I was yelling, “I know!, I know!” I was sure the killer had come from the future in that time machine, materializing in that room, killed them, then returned to the future. I thought that the Janus Society hadn’t given him some funding and he was mad as hell, seeking revenge. And it would turn out be Teddy Hawkins’ son, then he would be really sorry for sending the detective back to find the killer.

    I was also thinking how could 12 super rich people get murdered all at once and the crime not be solved. Impossible. Society would have demanded answers. I guess because they were also rich killers, their death was actually okay?

    Sounds like a good book. Not!!

  6. In a book full of stupid sentences, this one was the stupidest:

    “Based on new evidence Javier Martinez was posthumously convicted of murder in the first degree.”

    You don’t see Adam Lanza being tried for the Newtown massacre. You don’t see Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris being tried for Columbine. Hitler was never tried for genocide.

    I can see maybe a fourteen-year-old writing this and thinking it were possible to try and convict someone posthumously, but any adult has lived long enough that she should know that this has never happened, and will never happen. Aside from the ridiculous expense of a court trial for someone who is dead and can’t be punished, you cannot convict someone who has no opportunity to take the stand in his own defence.

    *massive eye roll*

  7. Yeah, I’m one of the ones who suffered through this whole extended fan-fic of time travel. I was willing to put up with some of the obvious character inconsistencies (as pointed out by Joe and others), but I knew the story was in trouble when it developed that she was going to fit into the wealthy society scene by coopting Teddy’s expense accounts and credit cards and use a persona that Teddy created in the future…wait. What?

    How could Teddy, in the future, create a persona and credit card accounts in the past? Where did the credit card accounts come from that the financial systems in the past recognized? If it was an already existing assumed identity (with credit card accounts) why did that identity have access to Teddy’s funds and why didn’t past Teddy recognize Camilla’s name as an assumed identity, if so. Wouldn’t his past self have noticed the spending on his accounts? Did his past self NOT use accountants? Or was past Teddy always planning to go into the past and as such was creating personas for others before he ever got the time machine working? Again, if that was so, why didn’t past Teddy recognize Camilla’s assumed identity?

    Or did he go into the past himself, create the persona of Camilla, and then syphon off upwards of a million dollars into an account for all those credit card charges? And at that point, if he was in the past, why not just stake-out the mansion on the night of the murders (as everyone else is pointing out). At least Doc Brown in Back to the Future had the good sense to take correctly dated money back with him.

    As for picking Lila, Teddy would have been better served by sending a PI with some decent surveillance devices, or maybe a kid with a toy helicopter and a wireless camera.

  8. i loved this book! said no one ever. Ok I feel better for being irritated by so many things in this novel. I give myself (and all of us) a pat on the back for getting through it and even attempting to get through it. i was able to read it all because I stopped applying logic. Also I was stuck on a cruise ship and had nothing else to do but drink. Which did help with reading.

    Can I just ask a dumb question? Why did she like Effie? I didn’t find a single reason why that made sense. Effie was a shallow, vapid, ignorant human being. And in the end was setting her up. So she was also a backstabbing ass. I know.. being annoyed at that point is silly. I just needed to express my annoyance.

    I agree with what everyone else has pointed out. No argument from me. Ponytail already wrote a much better story.. someone uses leetle Teddy’s time machine to commit the crime. Bam! The story is already 1,000 times better.

    I said this before but I’ll say it again: Florida homes don’t have basements. I’m pretty sure that includes Star Island. The water table is just too high here. This was a red flag to me before I started reading it. Oh well. Maybe I’ll find a use for the book in a crafting project. Or I could gift it to someone I don’t like.

    @sparrow_hawk 😀 Yes.. my daughter is already complaining about how immature teenagers are. And reminding me she has 365 days to go before she’s legal drinking age. It’s going to be great when next year I take her out for her first drink. I have a feeling she’ll get through about half of it and be done.

    On Wednesday my other baby, Erin, turns 13. It’s definitely like out of the frying pan and into the fire. Or.. here we go again! 😉

  9. @whoviantrish: I was totally thinking the same thing about Effie! There is no earthly reason why Lila should have “thought of her as a friend,” which is how Lila puts it SEVERAL TIMES. As if saying it several times will make it so and quell our inner skeptic as we read. This is the problem with much of the book: Spector seems to think that by saying something is so (e.g., Lila and Effie are friends; Lila’s a genius detective; time continues to pass in the present while Lila’s in the past) that closes the door on any need to back her assertions up with some actual evidence or explanation. The golden rule of fiction writing is “Show, don’t tell.” Spector violates this rule over and over and over.

  10. @JeffW: I figured Teddy went back in time himself to set up the fake identity and the bank account. How exactly that would work is another issue. Like did he bring a suitcase with $1M+ cash money back in time with him and deposit it in a new account? He’d have to, right? Because he couldn’t do a wire transfer or something similar, because he’d have to be stealing from his past self to do it. And presumably his past self (or his accountant) would notice the missing funds.

    He couldn’t investigate or stake out the mansion himself, because his past self was already intimately involved with one murder victim and acquaintances with the rest. He’d inevitably run into himself or else make himself a murder suspect if anyone saw him lurking outside Chase’s house the night of the murder. He needed Lila or someone previously unassociated with the group, who didn’t exist in the past, so that the interloper wouldn’t bear any risk of prosecution for the crime.

    What I don’t get, though, is why it never occurred to Past Lila that Camilla Dayton was a suspect in the murder. Why had this “genius” detective never heard of Camilla in 2 years of investigating the case? This mysterious woman lived with Effie, and they had a falling out just before the massacre. And Camilla was a suspect in the murder of Willow, so clearly she was known to police. Lila should have been out looking for her from the start. And it would’ve been clear with just a modicum of investigation that Camilla Dayton was a false identity, making her even more of a viable suspect. It makes no fucking sense.

  11. I have to admit it took me a bit to get into the story, but I agree with everyone else that there were numerous implausibilities and convenient occurrences.

    However, I think there was a little too much of the “living the high life” and not enough investigating. It was also a bit too convenient that Lila noticed the tattoo on the arm of the man that shot Dylan and just happened to notice the same tattoo, and the design on the coat of arms, after she returned to 2018 and went to Dylan’s home.

    I know that people can make some very quick and seemingly random associations at times, but given that she was unable to really find out much except the dirty laundry of those that were killed, the sudden resolution was a bit of a stretch.

    Also, I’m not exactly sure how Teddy was able to figure out that Dylan was the killer when, based on the information he had, Dylan had been paralyzed prior to the murders, which would automatically exclude him as the killer.

    Personally, I thought that Lila herself would turn out to be the killer and that her reason for it would be something she discovered on her jaunt into the past. After all, what better way to explain the complete lack of evidence and suspects than to have a killer that travelled through time?

    As for the original investigation into the murders, the Miami PD comes off as a bunch of incompetent amateurs, including Lila. If they went to Effie’s looking for Camilla because they suspected her of committing a crime (as was stated), or because of her close association with several of the victims, I would think that they would have fingerprinted the guesthouse she was staying in to get a lead on her real identity, which would come back as Lila. The ID of Lila as Camilla should have led to a lot of awkward questions for her past self, none of which came to pass. So, my question is: Why not?

    Camilla as a prime suspect in the murders seems to be an obvious line of inquiry. She appears suddenly, insinuates herself into the lives of all of the people that ended up dead, then disappears into thin air never to be seen or heard from again. Did Lila’s original investigation turn up no evidence of Camilla? She certainly didn’t seem to have any questions or comments for Teddy about the persona she was to assume, and there was no “light bulb” moment where she suddenly realized why no trace of Camilla was ever found after the murders.

    I agree that the time travel aspect is paid more lip service than really being a key part of the story. Rather, it’s simply a means of getting the protagonist to the “correct” point in time for the story to play out.

    Teddy seems to have chosen Lila to go back in time to investigate the murders, but never actually states why it has to be her and only her. It seems he must have remembered her from the past events, but is that what compelled him to create his time machine? Because he knew from her presence that it was possible? How did he know Lila and Camilla were one and the same? Especially since the PD was unable to make that connection and, based on Lila’s own view of herself after her makeover, she looked nothing like she did as a cop.

    Also, if Teddy has a time machine, why didn’t he simply go back to a few minutes before the murders to find out for himself who the killer was? Why the whole charade with Lila? Her original investigation into the murders doesn’t seem like it would engender any real confidence in her abilities as an investigator. As you stated, Lila was unable to come up with the information on the prenup between Scott and his wife. None of the encrypted files on Javier’s computer seem to have come to light during the investigation, either. Nor did any of the other “dirt” she found in a mere three months. It’s extremely implausible that she wouldn’t be able to find out any of this information as a cop but that it would all essentially fall into her lap when she became a part of the world of the victims.

    I would think that lives of each of the people that were killed, as well as those closely associated with them, including Camilla, would have been gone over in minute detail looking for any evidence that there was a specific target, with the others being collateral damage, or that the killings were targeted at all of the victims. A motive for the murders would be something any investigator would try to determine first and foremost in order to lead to a suspect, yet no attempt at finding a motive seems to have been made. All of these rich people were killed, so let’s obsess about finding out who did it but not ask why.

    Furthermore, did past Teddy not question who was accessing his account? Having hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled out of his account should have raised some red flags with him. Or did future Teddy go back and somehow set up the account himself without his past self noticing? What’s the point? Why not just find out who killed the victims himself instead of going to such lengths to have someone else look into the killings?

    I also don’t quite see how a bunch of rich people decide to create a “murder club” for philanthropic purposes. Seems a bit of an oxymoron. If the idea of The Janus Society was to make anonymous donations to organizations to better people’s lives, to give back, why are the members so wrapped up in killing each other’s opponents?

    Then, too, if the murders have been going on for 100 years, why has no one made any connection between the killings and the Society or its members? I can’t imagine that rich philanthropists are all that skilled at murder and that at least one of them would have left some evidence behind in all that time. I also can’t believe that every cop that found that evidence could have been bought off or killed without any suspicion being aroused.

    The solution to the mystery of the killings is the same type of resolution that had me hating the show “Columbo.” The Clod would go through his investigation, figure out exactly how the crime was committed and by whom, and detail it all for the killer, who would then confess to everything. Really? Any killer worth the title would have told the Clod that his theory was a nice one, but that that was all it was – a theory – and since there was no evidence there was no case. He would also be told that if he wanted a conviction, he’d have to actually prove his theory, all while continuing to deny responsibility for the crime.

    Ah, well, at least I didn’t vote for this book.

  12. Unlike Joe, I have not felt the urge to throw the book out the window ….. because I have it on my ereader and I appreciate it a lot.
    I wonder if she need the hazmat suit to prevent the almost certain dead during the transport, why? returns without the f… suit?. Doing that she would have saved us a few pages of suffering.

    When Javier yells to the dogs i cant do anything but a enourmous facepalm.
    “Shut up those devil dogs if you don´t want them choke on my bullets.”
    The spanish traduction is the best thing to 3 years light big of bad.
    One more accurate: “Compadre. Calle a esos malditos perros o los callo a balazos”
    And please, pretty please…No Spanish mother in the worst ghetto in the world would leave their child with the dirty tshirt more than 0,4 seconds while the kitchen is a mess or natural disaster. La Señorita Spector tells us backwards.

    The Janus society is a mix of “Strangers on a Train” or better “Throw Momma From the Train” with a NGO.

    I had never felt more relieved with “End” word, but horror, we don´t even comfort us with this, no end word…Lila said “she was headed in the right direction.”
    I hope it’s a direction away from us.

  13. @Kathode exactly!

    Reading everyone’s comments I keep thinking “Shhhhh logic!” You truly do have to throw logic out the window to get through this book.

  14. This book didn’t appeal to me. Life is too short. Next month’s book looks better but they don’t have a kindle version. 🙁

    Wonderfully entertaining reviews though! 🙂

  15. Yup. I hated this book. I kept finding my eyes rolling every time she found some clue and asked herself why it didn’t show up in the investigations. Ummmm… because you are a horrible detective. Ugh.

    Also, It read like the worst kind of rags to riches romance novel complete with a (seemingly) perfect guy and an abusive misogynist. Gross. Even when the perfect guy turned out to be a murderer he still was played off like a hero for killing the evil murder club. Oh and God forbid any woman end a book being ok with being alone. She had to get close to Teddy (also rich and perfect) and it was hinted that they would end up together.

    I think the craziest part for me was seeing all the good reviews on Goodreads. Really?

    @Kathode-I agree about Dan brown and hated The Lost Symbol so much I used it as a stepping stool in my kitchen for a while to reach my top shelf-along with Jean Auel’s The Land of Painted Caves which was complete and utter trash.

  16. Loved skua’s comment: Unlike Joe, I have not felt the urge to throw the book out the window ….. because I have it on my ereader and I appreciate it a lot. Thanks for the 😆 !

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