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Hard Time (SF) - Jodi Taylor ****

Jodi Taylor has had a lot of success with her Chronicles of St Mary's series, time travel adventures with a quirky sense of humour. Those books feature St Mary's, a sort of standalone university history department with no teaching that investigates through time travel, but whose staff are more like the inhabitants of Hogwarts than any real university. 

I enjoyed Plan for the Worst in that series, but found the constant juvenile jokey behaviour of the staff irritating. Here, in the second of a spin-off series, Taylor switches focus to the Time Police, an organisation that are to some extent the enemy of St Mary's, even though both are technically good guys. Although there is still far too much banter between characters, the more serious setting lifts the book to a higher level, allowing Taylor's skill at putting her characters in danger to shine through with gripping adventure.

The Time Police are responsible for preserving the timeline - in this adventure they rescue a privileged time tourist and come up against a criminal organisation attempting to make a fortune from the capabilities of time travel. Once we get past the bantering and the ridiculously childish antagonistic relationship between the Time Police and St Mary's (the staff of which still get a small role in the plot) we get some quality action - which makes a fair amount of the chunky 528 page book a page turner - a few clever twists and as always with Taylor a considerable amount of interesting historical context. 

On the whole Taylor's characters are lifted straight from the stock personalities list, but another improvement here was that, for example, the rich privileged playboy character Luke managed to develop more light and shade. And there is one lovely hat tip to 2001, A Space Odyssey when someone orders 'Open the pod bay doors, Dal.' You can guess the response.

There still is a strange mix of writing that appears to be for an adult audience with juvenile behaviour by the characters in Taylor's style. The humour is rarely as sophisticated as the 2001 reference, and a good example is the way that the term 'fire truck' is widely used as a euphemistic swear word. Most of all this reminded of a US kid's movie franchise that used 'Shiitake mushrooms' as an expletive the same way - it just feels out of place in an adult novel. Even so, moving to the Time Police viewpoint has tightened up Taylor's drama and this book definitely left me wanting more.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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