Sand City, MK Alexander (CreateSpace Independent Publishing; also available on Kindle)

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Sand City is the first in the Tractus Fynn series, and if that means nothing to you, you’ve been missing out. I’m a little miffed at the author, to tell you the truth, because I’ve been trying to make a story about a time-traveling detective work for a few years. I couldn’t crack it, but Alexander has.

Anyway, the story of Sand City: a newspaper reporter, Patrick Jardel, is covering a series of murders in a smallish city on the Eastern Seaboard, not far from Maine. The victims’ identities are unknown; the circumstances of their deaths are mysterious. Because he’s working with the cops (the police department is so small that they’re using him as their crime-scene photographer), Patrick makes the acquaintance of a Dutch detective, Tractus Fynn, who – and if you find this hard to believe, imagine how Patrick must feel – has been spending his time tracking a killer who, like Fynn, can move back and forth through time.

Imagine, now, Patrick’s confusion when, as he’s still trying to come to grips with the idea of a time-traveling Dutch detective, Fynn tells him that they’ve met several times before, in other timelines; as the victims are identified, Fynn has been going back in time, making a small adjustment to their lives, and preventing their murders. While, of course, altering history itself. (That’s something I didn’t think of when I was trying to make my own time-traveling detective story work, and it’s a damned clever idea.)

I don’t think I want to tell you anything else about the plot, because, well, Alexander seems to have put a lot of work into it, and I don’t think it’s fair to reveal more of it. I will tell you this, though: the book is very entertaining, with a lighthearted approach to the subject matter. It’s not a comedy, but it feels as if the author was aware that the story would be a hard sell unless he acknowledged the inherent goofiness of the premise. A cop who travels through time to solve murders by erasing them from history? Wacky! But also brilliant.

Tractus Fynn, with his slightly ornate way of speaking and his slightly off-kilter mannerisms – a product, perhaps, of living through centuries of history – is a wonderfully compelling character, a nice guy who seems to be keeping a lot of secrets. Fynn bears a slight resemblance to other literary detectives (Sherlock Holmes and Aloysius Pendergast spring immediately to mind), but he’s very much his own man. Patrick Jardel is rather less compelling; he’s cast in the role of the reader’s surrogate – he reacts the way we would react, in his circumstances; he asks the questions we would want to ask — and he represents the book’s only real flaw: compared to the idiosyncratic and genuinely appealing Tractus Fynn, Patrick feels a little…ordinary.

But that’s a minor flaw in a novel that is otherwise quite good. A lot of fun for science fiction fans, mystery fans, and everyone in between.

Copyright David Pitt 2017

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