Time 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.
A tremendous achievement in mediocrity.