Readers who pick up a book called Lost in Time which promises time travel and dinosaurs probably know exactly what they are in for. AG Riddle takes these ingredients and adds one more genre element to the mix – a murder mystery. He then plays these elements for all that they are worth.
Sam Anderson is one of six researchers responsible for a project called Absalom. Absalom is a technology that can send people into Earth’s deep past but because of time travel rules, it is in an alternate timeline to our own. When the book opens, that technology is being used to punish criminals, a method that is so permanent and scary that it has driven down crime worldwide. But then Sam and his daughter Adeline are accused of killing Nora, one of the other Absalom six with whom Sam was also having a secret relationship. Sam finds himself being forced to confess in order to save Adeline and then sentenced to being sent back into the distant past. Luckily for Sam, his colleagues have developed Absalom 2 which can keep the objects that it sends back in time in the same timeline as our own and so there is a faint chance of rescue. The only problem is that one of those colleagues might be Nora’s actual killer.
So much set up, and that is before Riddle gets to the dinosaurs (Sam is sent back to the late Triassic period). The middle part of the novel splits its time between Sam’s survival story and Adeline’s increasingly frustrating investigation of her father’s colleagues. There are also plenty of contrived cliffhangers to keep both stories moving. And all of that is before the novel twists again, the serious time travel elements hit, and the plot unravels and reforms as something completely different. The resolution of all of this is a little too reminiscent of a poorly reviewed B-grade time travel movie from the late 1980s which itself was based on a short story by multi-Locus award winner John Varley (naming them would probably constitute a spoiler but they are easy enough to find).
There is nothing deep and meaningful here, despite some homilies towards the end. And like a lot of time travel stories the trick is not to think about the mechanics too hard, particularly as the central driver of pretty much everything is a classic bootstrap paradox. And while the dinosaurs are probably one unnecessary flourish to far they do key readers into the mode of not taking any of this too seriously – of just sitting back and enjoying the ride. And Riddle’s easy style makes that entirely possible.