If there’s one thing that can be said about this book, it’s that it lives up to its title.
The premise is fascinating: An institute of historical research called St Mary’s, associated with the (also fictional) University of Thirsk in northern England, is not the stuffy old institution it appears to be but actually conducts its historical research in the most contemporary way possible–they go back in time and observe the events firsthand. The main character, Dr Madeleine Maxwell, called Max, is recruited by St Mary’s, and the book chronicles in exhaustive detail the training she receives and the protocols and procedures for historical research time travel. From there it skips, with no particular indication of chronology (ironic), to later points in Max’s career: her first major mission, her trip to the Cretaceous period (history, palaeontology, eh, what’s the difference?), her unusual slow-burn relationship with a colleague, an attempted rape, treachery, sabotage, explosions, villains, the library of Alexandria.
When I had got about halfway through this book and there was still no discernible plot structure, it occurred to me that perhaps this is the point. Its title is One Damned Thing After Another (from the quote about history attributed to Arnold J Toynbee ) and that’s precisely what it is. Just one damned thing after another, with no particular narrative cohesion, character development, or internal logic.
What it does have is plenty of action and suspense ramped up by Dan Brown-style sledgehammer foreshadowing (Chapter 6–“If it hadn’t, if she’d come, how much would have been different?” Chapter 10–“‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘There’s always tomorrow night.’ But there wasn’t.” Cue dramatic music), a fascinating and reasonably well executed premise, and a likeable main character. The writing is not great. There’s also quite a lot of violence and death, some of which seemed unnecessary. Yet despite all of this, it is an engaging and interesting book, easy to read and fun. I will probably read the next in the series. I won’t exactly want to, but I probably will.