Book Review (with some rambling at the end): Shadows of Time by Ann Nolder Heinz

Synopsis: Madeline (Maddie) Blake is not like other PIs. She has a unique gift, the ability under certain circumstances to bridge time and relive events that have already happened. When a heartbroken mother calls from Seattle and begs for her help in locating her missing daughter, Maddie cannot refuse. Yet it soon becomes apparent that someone will go to any length to prevent her from taking the case.

Maddie’s grit and determination prevail, and she arrives in Seattle only to discover that more is at stake in the wealthy Hallowell house than a simple abduction. Questions abound. Why is the girl’s father so hostile to Maddie’s involvement? It is 1979, the Cold War is at its zenith, and he shows more passion over a famous Soviet dissident than he does in finding his daughter. Why is a man murdered and his body dumped on the curb in front of his house? Why does he summon a group of colleagues to a secret meeting in the middle of the night in what looks to Maddie like a full-blown conspiracy somehow tied to the communist regime in Russia? Why has a self-described freelance journalist ingratiated himself into the household and into Maddie’s investigation? Who is friend and who foe?

As Maddie gets closer to the truth about what happened, she finds herself in ever increasing danger. Her psychic gift takes her from the city to the mountains to the coast and onto a Russian fishing trawler far out in the Pacific Ocean. Faced with the most horrendous odds she has ever encountered, she must use every last physical and emotional resource in order to survive and unravel the skein of lies and ambitions that lie at the heart of her case.

Genre: Historical (1979) Suspense

I have to be upfront about one thing from the beginning: if you’re looking for a happy ending, you won’t find it here.

Despite my personal disapproval of most things labeled psychic in everyday life, I was intrigued by Shadows of Time. To the author’s credit, she does her best to distance Maddie’s  gift from anything occult related except in using the term clairvoyance to describe it. Maddie is surprisingly down to earth, logical (most of the time), and understandable.

That said, perhaps I should have noticed other red flags advising that I am not the best audience for this book.

Maddie irked me early on in the book. Her weakness, which I’m sure is meant to humanize her and bring a catharsis to otherwise tense situations, is a newfound friend of the family who hired her. From the very beginning, Maddie is unsure of how he fits in everything going on, and says to herself, referring to her investigation, something along the lines of “I better be careful how much I tell him about what I know,” and then proceeds to immediately tell him everything she knows. In other instances she consistently follows her intuition, but not when it comes to Neil. While he claims to want to help her and often seems to be legitimately trying to do so, he is ultimately more of a distraction.

As romance blossoms between the two, they handle it poorly. Obviously this is not the main point of the book, but it is there and unnecessary. Honestly, I cannot find a single relationship in this book which is a positive example or even optimistic. Divorce, deceit, and promiscuity are the disappointing norm. This does not only apply to romantic relationships: the only positive parenting relationship is that of the missing girl and her mother. Any other relationship mentioned only adds to the emotional baggage being drug around by character after character.

The mystery and suspense elements of this book are masterfully written. Clues are everywhere, and nothing is mentioned without significance. We witness some of the worst aspects of humanity, often from surprising sources. In this instance, the wealthy are often the most desperate for approval, power, and success, despite what they already possess.

The biggest reason this book is disappointing to me is the way it demonstrates many aspects of the common modern existence: everyone is seeking fulfillment in all the wrong places. Maddie’s lack of acceptance due to her psychic gift leads her to isolation and fear. Her current employer’s husband is so full of himself that he participates in secret plots at the expense of his daughter. Diane, the girl everyone is looking for, is raised in such opulence that she sees it as the only thing worth having. Yet, despite each character’s downfalls or scars, they all know that there is something better out there. They may not all acknowledge it, and when they do they try to fill that void with relationships, wealth, or demonstrations of personal power, but it will never be enough.

This isn’t just the case in this book. This is the human condition. When we spend our days endlessly chasing things or feelings or avoiding the deep sense of emptiness which is common to everyone, we can block out the pit inside for a while…but it will never be enough. No physical thing, human relationship, or show of power can ultimately provide fulfillment. So if nothing in this world is fulfilling, where does that leave us? Where else can we look? Some would say inside the human mind: that with reason and philosophy we can figure out how things work and how to get along. That might provide some short-term assistance, but it will never answer the question of why. Why does any of it matter? Why should we chase our dreams, pursue goals, and hold certain morals? Asserting that it is simply because that is how our society works, or because it serves a utilitarian purpose, is unsatisfying and weak. Instead, we must learn to look outside of this world. The only way to find fulfillment, meaning, and answers is to grapple with God and His truth.

Since this is a book review and not a theological exposé, I won’t go into too much detail about what I believe and why. In order to explain my reaction to this book, this brief explanation is necessary: God created the world and everything in it, including mankind. Initially, mankind had a face-to-face relationship with God, but when the first man and woman did the one thing God had forbidden, this relationship was shattered and sin was introduced to the world. This is what causes the emptiness and longing which is so clearly pictured in this book. The solution does not come from anything we can do, but from what God did: in order to restore a right relationship with each individual person, God sent Jesus to atone for our sins. Jesus lived a perfect life, and was crucified by His own people. On the third day after His death, however, He conquered over death and was raised from the dead. He offers redemption to everyone who calls on His name, and this is the only way to truly be made whole.

I appreciate the opportunity reading this book has given me. The deeply hurt characters are insightful depictions of the way the world is now. I yearn for them to find the answers they seek just as I yearn for every person to find the real reason for hope in this life. But there is no happy ending, and the only hope provided comes from temporary relationships and things which will ultimately fail, such as wealth. The characters live with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty and inefficiency.

I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed this book. I am sure that there is an audience out there better suited to it than I am; I struggled to stomach the rampant immorality, and the ending left me with a deep sense of dissatisfaction. That said, many elements were put together well: the writing flows, the pace is good, and the mystery is well crafted. I simply cannot overlook the fact that such emptiness is faced with no resolution. Maddie craves love and acceptance, and is only allowed a flawed glimpse of what she could have. She, and anyone who follows a similar path of searching for these things in people or ourselves, will never feel whole.

Until the next chapter,



Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

P.S. If you would like to discuss any aspect of this review with me personally, including postions about my belief in Jesus Christ, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The comment section is not the place for religious debate, but I am happy to discuss what I believe with anyone via my inbox.

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