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Time Hunter: Echoes
Iain McClaughlin and Claire Bartlett
Telos paperback £7.99

review by Tom Johnstone

While the characters of Honore Lechasseur and Emily Blandish first appeared in the Doctor Who novella Cabinet Of Light, this latest novella in the spin-off from a spin-off series feels more like an episode of Sapphire And Steel. It opens with the temporal detectives investigating a corporate office block in 1995, whose owner John Raymond committed suicide by jumping from the twentieth floor of the building. They notice a company logo in the shape of a devil's horns and tail. Cue a footnote referring to The Severed Man, a previous novella in the Time Hunter series, which gives rise to a strong sensation of nostalgia in this reviewer. It reminds me of the asterisks in Target novelisations of classic Doctor Who TV serials, saying things like "see Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters." Meanwhile a group of women from different time periods are trapped in some kind of limbo, where they lack physical form but are nevertheless able to communicate. As Emily and Lechasseur investigate the office block, they walk into a black void of nothingness, where a door appears leading into the house of Joan Barton. There they find a letter dated November 1944 informing her of her son's death in the war.

Having enjoyed Daniel O'Mahoney's stylish, suspenseful and atmospheric Cabinet Of Light, which introduced the intriguing characters of Lechasseur and Emily, I was rather disappointed by the pedestrian prose-style in evidence in the opening paragraphs to Echoes. However the language improves later on in the novella, and Bartlett and McClaughin have woven an intriguing and unnerving story, pitting their temporal detectives against a creepy but not entirely unsympathetic adversary, and capturing some of the musty, claustrophobic feel of the Sapphire And Steel TV serials. I am thinking particularly of the scene where a picture comes to life, a moment which is presented in an effectively deadpan way.

Also very reminiscent of Sapphire And Steel is the idea of people being trapped in a kind nether existence, as well as the knowing interplay between the two investigators. The sequences of dialogue set in the limbo use an interesting device: bullet points instead of speech marks, suggesting disembodied voices. But it's a bit dismal the way all the temporally displaced women seem to do is bitch and bicker. Maybe that's a bit unfair, but the interaction between the women was one thing that did not work for me, particularly the scene where the strait-laced Joan Barton berates the prostitute Tess for having an abortion, because she herself has lost seven children. This is a shame because the femaleness of the captives is actually central to the plot, providing part of the motive for the being that holds them prisoner.

The other thing that I found a bit trying was the reliance on backstory, on the obscure continuity of the previous Time Hunter novellas, exemplified in the footnote I mentioned earlier. The function of Echoes as a sequel to George Mann's The Severed Man undermines the tension and drama of the novella's closing chapters, which also feature some of its most powerful and lyrical writing.
Time Hunter: Echoes

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