Five years ago, I started reading this book at the recommendation of an acquaintance, got about 150 pages in, and put it down out of lack of interest. I don’t know why; it just wasn’t doing it for me. Recently, a another friend read and recommended it with five stars, and I, in need of something new to read, pulled it off the bookshelf, bookmark still in place. This time I was determined to stick it out, and to my surprise, found myself frantically plowing through it in a mad dash to find out the answer to my questions: Who was Mr. C? What was Finch’s secret mission? Would Ned ever find the lost Bishop’s bird stump and would the poor man ever get a good night’s sleep?
This is, without a doubt, one of the best plotted time travel novels I have ever read. The premise is both amusing and brilliantly executed. After the powers that be realize that they can’t plunder the past with time travel, Oxford historians find themselves so desperate for funding that they agree to help a very rich, American dowager rebuild Coventry Cathedral down to the most miniscule detail. Historian Ned Henry, having time traveled for 19 hours straight in search of a mysterious artifact called the Bishop’s Bird Stump, is sent to Victorian England to get some rest and escape Lady Shrapnell’s unceasing demands that he visit every rummage sale before 1943. In the process, he finds himself responsible for correcting the space time continuum while attempting to navigate through the byzantine customs and excessive clutter of the Victorian era – not to mention managing the sleeping arrangements of a bulldog named Cyril and a spoiled, fish killing cat.
This novel is so tightly written that things that appeared to be little details or off hand remarks were, to my great pleasure, rather important plot points by the end of the tale. I was also impressed by how it somehow manages to be, all at once, a mystery novel, a romance, and a comedy of manners that is both an homage to and a send up of the genre. I laughed out loud several times, and am rather in awe of how everything came together so neatly in the end. This was just an all around pleasure to read. I give it my highest praise, which is that I wish I had thought of this first.