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This sequel to The Golden Hour and The Hour of the Cobra continues the adventures of four young Time Detectives who owe their history-hopping powers to a strange, abandoned hotel on the coast of Maine and its founder, the brilliant inventor Archibald Weber. Twins Xanthe and Xavier Alexander, together with siblings Rowan and Nina Popplewell, must now attempt an assignment that has long eluded the skills of older and more experienced time travelers. If they can’t find Weber’s missing son and bring him back, the future of time travel – and of the world itself – may be in jeopardy.
Balthazar Weber was a troubled but brilliant kid. The troubled side took over in a big way when his mother died, leaving him alone with his work-obsessed father. Somehow he got the idea in his head that the old man wanted to kill him. Feeling betrayed and afraid, Balt took advantage of a field-trip to the year 1857 to escape while his father listened to a speech by Abraham Lincoln. He ran away to the California Gold Rush, taking with him his grandfather-to-be. If the proper timeline isn’t restored, Grandpa Weber may never marry Archibald’s mother. Balt and his father may never be born. And time travel won’t exist to bring the four young time detectives home.
In nineteenth-century California, the twenty-first-century kids find more than they bargained for. Xavier and Xanthe find a world where dark-skinned folks like them are treated as inferiors at best, and may face dangers that never threaten their paler-skinned friends. Nina, the piano prodigy, finds herself in the spotlight as an innkeeper turns her talent and girlish looks to good account. Rowan succumbs to gold fever and nearly loses his mind. Xanthe finds out how little her life has prepared her to be useful in the roles open to her sex in 1857. And Xavier faces constant danger from bullets and lynch mobs as he adopts the “become a thief to catch a thief” mode of operating.
Their adventure includes encounters with historical persons (such as author Bret Harte), stagecoach robbers, Indian captives, and early heroes in black Americans’ struggle for a better life. They visit a prospectors’ camp, a saloon in the aptly-named Hangtown, and a part of the Owatannauk Hotel they weren’t meant to find. They get asked hard questions. They play risky gambits. And they begin to learn about the role they may yet play as warriors, perhaps even saviors.
The final act of the story wraps up so quickly that, in spite of the daring and exciting action that fills it, it almost seems too easy. Actually, it’s Balt’s change of heart that seems too easy, given his seemingly irreconcilable break with his father. But the very end has enough uncertainty, perhaps even grim foreboding, to keep you wondering what will come next. So far, I have no knowledge of a fourth book in this series, or even if one is being planned. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future – and the past – hold for the time detectives!