My rating: 4 of 5 stars
High school teacher Tom Knight is in a Shakespearean frame of mind as he goes on the hunt for “Love’s Labor Won”, the fabled lost play attributed to the bard and hotly sought after for centuries. Knight’s never believed in its existence, not until a celebrity writer and her agent, one of Tom’s former students, are murdered within a day of each other, in his own neighborhood. Tom being Tom, he drops everything at takes off for Europe. In the meantime, he receives some painful news from his estranged wife, Kumi, who lives in Japan and has just received a diagnosis of breast cancer.
What Time Devours is a much more soul-searching adventure than its predecessors. True, Knight is still his old, wildly impulsive self, hurling himself into one impossible, life threatening situation after another, without a glimmer of forethought. But he’s been missing Kumi and hoping for a reconciliation, and the shock of her illness has brought him to the sobering recognition of the brevity of life and the vagaries of fate. Love and loss are major themes in Shakespeare’s writing, and spending time in Stratford-upon-Avon embeds them firmly in Tom’s consciousness. He is fully aware of “…the pointlessness and stupidity of the whole thing”, but no amount of threat or violence can shake him off this mission.
There is a tremendous dose of the wildly unlikely in this novel, but if you simply accept that, it’s a heck of a good story. Author Hartley has created some character gems, such as the verger from Westminster Abbey who assists Knight, the sadly eccentric mystery writer mourning for her long dead daughter, and the fierce concierge who guards the door at the Shakespeare Institute. He takes a hefty whack at scholarly pretension, and also includes a few of the Bard’s sonnets’ which do much to illuminate Tom’s interior struggles. As for the mystery, it’s first rate, with plenty of zigs and zags, and an appropriately spooky setting for its denouement.