TIME OUT OF MIND Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1976
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"As a young boy, Laurie Linton encountered a strange apparition: a ghostly man who urgently mouthed a message: KILL MAGOBION!
Years later, as members of the UN Narcotics Security Agency, Linton and the beautiful Carol Kennedy were assigned a special duty: investigation of a mysterious drug which endowed its addicts with superhuman powers.
Now, that investigation leads Linton and Carol into a bewildering speed... where international peace teeters in the balance... and where all clues point to the top-secret Ministry of Internal Security and its prestigious, powerful leader - COLONEL PIERS MAGOBION."
Time Out of Mind is a story first published in 1973 but set in the "future" year of 1996. It's a police procedural that incorporates elements of tricky time travel or whatever you call it when someone projects their consciousness and ghostly image into the past. To justify the narcotics agency angle, rookie agent Laurie Linton is assigned to investigate a 16-year-old female junkie who may or may not possess "poltergeist" abilities.
To be honest, this book isn't my jam. Englishman John Middleton Murry, Jr. - who wrote in sci-fi and fantasy under the pseudonyms "Richard Cowper" and "Colin Murry" - has a narrative style that I can't get comfy with, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's to do with unrealized expectations. When I cracked open this book, I was in a mood for a lean and propulsive thriller, and what Cowper doled out instead was something more in the vein of heavy exposition and plenty of not a lot going on. Boy, do people talk a lot in this one, so much so that I feel there should've been a PowerPoint presentation. The pace crawled.
Let's not front, Time Out of Mind hasn't aged well. Today it reads as awkwardly dated, particularly in how Cowper imagines the future of 1996 with his clunky tech. One of the ways Agent Linton is able to suss out the identity of a suspect is by utilizing a rattling processing machine into which you to insert a memory card. Shades of that movie Desk Set (1957) with Spencer & Tracy! At least, the videophone is more accurate.
There are redeeming elements. I liked the instant chemistry between Linton and Carol, and how liberated Carol seemed. I enjoyed reading about Linton's foray to the waterfront and running into that tough-talking 7-year-old girl. At a dingy fry-shop he plies her with greasy potato chips, and she gives him some good leads. The book could've done with more of that girl's moxie and energy.
Another neat thing: The plot sparks an interesting discussion regarding one of the primary posits of time travel: that altering something in the past, no matter how seemingly trivial, can result in massive repercussions in the present and future. In this book - and a ***SPOILER ALERT*** now - memories of a subversive action in the future trickle back to the past in the shape of nagging dreams, dreams that eventually lead the characters to suspect that their past had been altered - by their future selves.
In a pinch of too little, too late, the action does pick up in the final 30 pages or so. Anyway, if you've the temperament of a saint and you'd rather bask in leisurely, contemplative adventures, Time Out of Mind may be the ideal time waster. Me, I wanted more action, more sci-fi effects, more cloak and dagger, more of the agents kicking butt, less 1970s notion of future tech, more of that awesome little girl, and less talking. A generous 3 out of 5 stars for me, for the things that I did like and for the non-linear time travel angle.