Two new 2022 releases for your consideration…
The Paradox by Rob Hart
January Cole’s job just got a whole lot harder.
Not that running security at the Paradox was ever really easy. Nothing’s simple at a hotel where the ultra-wealthy tourists arrive costumed for a dozen different time periods, all eagerly waiting to catch their “flights” to the past.
Or where proximity to the timeport makes the clocks run backward on occasion—and, rumor has it, allows ghosts to stroll the halls.
None of that compares to the corpse in room 526. The one that seems to be both there and not there. The one that somehow only January can see.
On top of that, some very important new guests have just checked in. Because the U.S. government is about to privatize time-travel technology—and the world’s most powerful people are on hand to stake their claims.
January is sure the timing isn’t a coincidence. Neither are those “accidents” that start stalking their bidders.
There’s a reason January can glimpse what others can’t. A reason why she’s the only one who can catch a killer who’s operating invisibly and in plain sight, all at once.
But her ability is also destroying her grip on reality—and as her past, present, and future collide, she finds herself confronting not just the hotel’s dark secrets but her own.
My thoughts: In a near future where time travel has become reality, January Cole is a former agent for an organization tasked with addressing potential chronal manipulations, traveling through history to thwart or rectify alterations to the timeline. THAT was her old job. Her new job has her serving as house detective for the Paradox Hotel, a sort of way station for wealthy time travelers, an embarkation point before their journeys to the past. But all is not well – with either January or the Hotel Paradox. January, it turns out, has become “unstuck”, unmoored from the timestream. She is flashing backwards and forwards in time, catching glimpses of futures not yet realized. And one of those futures is a possible murder that only she is in a position to stop. Complicating matters for January is the fact that her peculiar condition is slowly worsening and, according to her doctor, fatal.
This book is a fun exploration of the many facets of theoretical time travel that, at times, crosses the line from complex to overly complicated. The various mysteries at its heart related to the purchase of the hotel are actually much less interesting than the character of January and her backstory related to the death of her former lover. The latter really resonated with me in its exploration of this woman’s grief and the guilt associated with her loss. The former was, ultimately, unsatisfying in its resolution. Truly great thrillers solve their mysteries by showing the audience how the pieces of the puzzle, sitting right in front of them all along, rearrange to form a surprising reveal. Average thrillers, on the other hand, solve their mysteries by providing a late-stage crucial missing piece to the puzzle, one whose absence made it impossible for the reader to put together that final reveal on their own. The Paradox Hotel is an average thriller. But it’s a wonderful time travel adventure that asks some insightful questions about love, loss, and our place in the universe. I also thought the ending was terrific.
Once Upon a Time in Russia by Ben Mezrich
Once Upon a Time in Russia is the untold true story of the larger-than-life billionaire oligarchs who surfed the waves of privatization to reap riches after the fall of the Soviet regime: “Godfather of the Kremlin” Boris Berezovsky, a former mathematician whose first entrepreneurial venture was running an automobile reselling business, and Roman Abramovich, his dashing young protégé who built a multi-billion-dollar empire of oil and aluminum. Locked in a complex, uniquely Russian partnership, Berezovsky and Abramovich battled their way through the “Wild East” of Russia with Berezovsky acting as the younger man’s krysha — literally, his roof, his protector.
Written with the heart-stopping pacing of a thriller—but even more compelling because it is true—this story of amassing obscene wealth and power depicts a rarefied world seldom seen up close. Under Berezovsky’s krysha, Abramovich built one of Russia’s largest oil companies from the ground up and in exchange made cash deliveries—including 491 million dollars in just one year. But their relationship frayed when Berezovsky attacked President Vladimir Putin in the media—and had to flee to the UK. Abramovich continued to prosper. Dead bodies trailed Berezovsky’s footsteps, and threats followed him to London, where an associate of his died painfully and famously of Polonium poisoning. Then Berezovsky himself was later found dead, declared a suicide.
My thoughts: As a big fan of true crime books with a focus on organized crime, I was expecting to really enjoy this book. And I really did. It’s a fascinating account of the rise of Russia’s oligarchs on the heels of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, revealing how a group of men, mostly born into poverty, used their contacts to the Yeltsin presidency to stake their claims on a chaotic, rapidly evolving socio-political and economic restructuring. We follow the ascent of one of these oligarchs, Boris Berezovsky, from the car-bombing that almost claims his life to his eventual exile to London, tracking the various players who helped and hindered him along the way including Alexander Litvinenko (an officer with the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation initially tasked with investigating the attempt on Berezovsky’s life), fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich, and, of course, Vladimir Putin.
Like many true crime authors, Mezrich makes use of recreated dialogue, drawing from interviews and research to craft scenes that paint an intimate picture while, at the same time, remaining true to the spirit of past events. I, personally, feel a little of this goes a long way and that the more detailed the descriptions, the more distracting. While I don’t mind so much when it comes to dialogue, I find it less tolerable when it comes to insights into inner monologue or thoughts, or the minutiae of things like body positioning. On the other hand, there’s a seemingly surprising reticence on the part of the author to question some of the more clearly suspect occurrences. For instance, in an interview about the book, the author mentions an incident where an old-guard Russian general who was proving problematic to one oligarch’s ambitions, died under mysterious circumstances after “going for a swim” in Siberia. His bodyguard, the only witness to the presumed accidental drowning, was killed in a bar that same night. In retelling the story for the podcast, the implication was clear – and chilling. In the book, however, the incident is presented in somewhat less sinister fashion. The general goes swimming to impress his girlfriend and drowns in his inebriated state. It’s a plausible, albeit convenient development. The death of the bodyguard is mentioned, but there is no hint of potential nefarious doings. There are several incidents like this throughout the book and, in fairness, I have to wonder if there was a reluctance to skate too close to the truth given the ruthless nature of some of the individuals profiled.
Ultimately, if you can embrace the clear dramatizations, and are willing to take the time to do a little research to help connect the dots on a few of the little mysteries touched upon, you’ll be rewarded with an informative, entertaining, and at times surprising read.
And what have YOU been reading?