Wrong Place, Wrong Time
by Gillian McAllister
William Morrow, May 2023, $18.99 trade paperback
In Gillian McAllister’s latest standalone Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Jen Brotherhood finds her life torn apart after her son inexplicably stabs a stranger. The teenaged Todd is a sweet, nerdy boy and Jen can’t figure out for the life of her what drove him to do it. But after she spends a restless night tormented by the tragedy, she finds herself waking up the day before. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Jen has been given the chance to not only undo her son’s crime, but discover what led to it.
The further back in time she gets, the more she learns about not only the fatal act, but about her own family. She may not know her amiable husband Kelley as well as she thinks, and son Todd may have known his victim better than he claims. Jen is at times driven, euphoric, lost, and even desperate, as she repeats her life from different vantage points, each one with strong emotions attached.
At first, the conceit of the story can be a little difficult to get into. Because Jen is going back every single day, it’s hard to see the actual significance of her actions. After all, when she wakes up again, everything she does, and every conversation she had the day before is erased. Slowly, though, it becomes clear that she is learning something new about the crime with every revisited experience. As the picture comes into focus, it’s hard to look away.
Jen, Todd, and Kelley are powerfully drawn. They feel like a family you know, or could even be a part of. The characters on the periphery, however, can feel roughly sketched out in comparison. Particularly as time passes, these people drift in and out of Jen’s life without making a real impression. Many never become important beyond plot points. This makes sense, given how focused Jen is on her own disaster, but the sharp focus on the main characters can make things seem a little fuzzy at the edges.
Despite this small flaw, the mystery itself is solid. The reader is pulled along by a good plot and strong central characters. There is never a moment of doubt that the ending will satisfy, and the story evokes genuine emotion as it proceeds there. Though the time travel element of being pulled back repeatedly is interesting, it doesn’t always seem crucial. A good story is a good story, even without the frills.
A review of this novel in hardcover first appeared in the print issue of Mystery Scene Magazine.