Mysterious disappearances, time travel, and a violent slave revolt take center stage in Colin’s second novel (The Memory Thief, 2012), set in Charleston and Barbados.
Dr. Isabel Griffin is lead archaeologist on a Barbadian dig when she receives a brief phone call from a man she's long presumed dead—her daughter's father, Max Adair, the boyfriend who went missing the day after she told him she was pregnant. The reader soon learns that though almost eight years have passed in the present, Max has been stuck on his ancestor’s Barbados sugar cane plantation in the year 1816, days before a historic slave uprising. The novel revolves around the wonderfully spooky convention that a clearing on the Adair family's Charleston property is a “thin” place, where the world of the living meets that of the dead. And Max isn't the first person to have been lured through the portal by ancestral specters—Isabel's mother, Julia, had passed through it years earlier, and unbeknownst to Isabel, Max had seen her in the woods the day she disappeared. As Julia and Max have worked to prevent the bloody uprising from happening in the past, because they know it's doomed to fail and many slaves would lose their lives, in the present Isabel has tried to heal. She trained in martial arts and even found an unexpected father for her daughter, Finn, in her best friend, Ryan. Irrefutable clues to Julia's and Max’s whereabouts surface, and ultimately it’s Finn who brings about the family reunion. As the novel winds slowly to a close, Isabel must reconcile her feelings for both Max and Ryan. There is a welcome urgency in the 19th-century chapters as the slave revolt looms that helps propel the more stilted present-time narrative forward. But as Ryan asks for information no less than seven times before Isabel grants it or as Isabel takes five pages to explain to Ryan that she received an upsetting phone call, the reader can’t help but wonder how the book might have benefited from a more substantial edit.
An enticing premise, but the execution doesn't justify its length.