October 9, 2022

Review: The Paradox Hotel

The Paradox Hotel The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a time-travel story cross-pollinated with a locked-room (or locked-hotel) murder mystery. If those two things don't seem possible....well, all I can say is your mileage will definitely vary on this. I liked it well enough, but it's not in the running for my best book of the year.

Mainly because the story really isn't about either one of the two mentioned items. It's a meditation on grief, loss and guilt, and owning up to the things one has done and asking forgiveness. The protagonist, January Cole, works as head of security at the titular Paradox Hotel, which provides accommodations for the Einstein Intercentury Timeport. Ultra-rich people come there to stay and book trips into the past. But the complex is losing money, and the government is planning to auction it off. They have invited four trillionaires to bid for it, and the auction is to be held at a summit the day after the book starts.

January is still grieving the death of her girlfriend Mena, and is progressing to the second stage of being Unstuck, when the brain can no longer handle the timestream's quantum effects. Part of her symptoms include "slipping," her brain perceiving past (and possible future) events. She sees Mena in the hotel and relives past moments with her over again, which is why she refuses to quit her job or retire. January starts out as a pretty unlikable character, prickly and bitter and guilt-ridden. Her friends at the hotel try to reach out to her, but she repeatedly slaps their attempts away.

As the trillionaires and their sycophants gather for the summit (the book's depiction of ultra-rich assholes is spot-on, almost over-the-top), the mystery begins, and the unraveling January is in the middle of it. Someone is trying to derail the summit at the same time something is going wrong over at the Timeport, with the result that timestream ripples are beginning at the hotel and spreading out across the countryside. At first only January, with her Unstuck affliction, can sense them, which does nothing to help her when she tries to convince her boss what is going on. The mystery extends back to the days when the hotel and the Timeport were being built, and January discovers a hidden room left behind by the woman who discovered time travel, with a mechanism that can freeze the timestream and allow someone to step outside it. This comes into play at the climax, when she is trying to hunt down the person responsible for the murders.

Along the way she comes to grips with her grief and guilt over Mena's death, realizes how she has been hurting and alienating her friends, and begins to make amends. The one knock I do have against this book is the ending...she dies, but because she does so in the "time-frozen" dimension, she ends up joining Mena as one of the hotel's "time ghosts"? It's more than a bit confusing and not really satisfying, which I suspect is why the book isn't going to stick in my mind. But the mystery itself is sharply written, if that kind of thing is your jam.

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