Winburn takes readers into America’s revolutionary past in his debut military thriller.
In the 1980s, when a freak storm over Norfolk, Virginia, sets off a highly radioactive shipment of tritium, Master Gunnery Sergeant John Williams of the U.S. Marine Corps is sent back in time to the early days of the American Revolution. He finds himself in the Virginia colony of the 1770s, watching British Marines impressing American farmers into the King’s service. Still in possession of a stock of supplies and arms from his own time, Williams must quickly decide how he can participate in the past’s struggles without doing irreparable damage to the future. What are his duties as a soldier, as an American and as a visitor lost in time? Perhaps most importantly, what must he do to survive long enough to get back to his own present? Williams’ adventures take him through the first, fitful throes of the American Revolution, from (truly) colonial Williamsburg all the way to Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, where he participates in the birth of his own beloved Marine Corps. As its preface describes, the novel itself underwent its own strange travels through time: Winburn began writing it years ago, but died in 2002 before its completion; author Ralph Stoney Bates Sr. finished and edited it. Both men, coincidentally, served in the Marines. The resulting prose is crisp and procedural, reconnoitering every scene for the benefit of both Williams and readers. Though the first act lags a bit, as it sets up an unnecessarily complex inciting incident, the story picks up nicely after Williams gets to the colonial era. A requisite fish-out-of-water scenario unfolds, including a romantic entanglement and cameos from some Founding Fathers; overall, there’s little reinvention of the genre. However, despite this, the story succeeds: The mundane details of the period and setting make the work immersive. Like Michael Crichton before them, Winburn and Bates know that thrills are a dime a dozen in historical thrillers, but obsessive attention to period practices and details keep the pages turning.
An often enjoyable time-travel thriller with a rich historical setting.