If you’ve ever wanted a book that combines elements of time travel, murder and ghost stories into one, then Rob Hart’s The Paradox Hotel is the book for you. Defying the genre to the fault, The Paradox Hotel crams so many stories into its nearly 300 pages that it’s kind of a miracle that everything works as well as it does. But overall, The Paradox Hotel is a truly impressive book. The mystery is satisfying and well plotted. The emotional stakes are clear and well developed. And the book is so much fun to read – a shining example of compulsive page-turning.
A combination of pulpy fun and emotional character exploration
In the future, time travel not only exists, but is available to extremely wealthy people as an exotic vacation. And, of course, all those potential travelers need a nice place to stay, right? This is where the Paradox Hotel comes in. Accommodation for the rich and powerful. A destination in its own right. Apparently haunted. And, somehow, lose money. That’s why a US senator brought a group of the world’s richest trillionaires to the hotel to attend a summit. It’s more of an auction, where the United States intends to sell the hotel and accompanying timeport to the highest bidder. Assuming January Cole, the hotel’s head of security, can figure out what’s causing a series of increasingly bizarre events – velociraptor attacks, missing security footage, assassination attempts, and a dead body… only she can see – and stop them before they derail the whole auction.
As if that weren’t enough, there’s an added wrinkle – January Cole, herself. Because January, after years of traveling through time as some kind of time cop, came Unstuck. This means that she suffers from some sort of rare, terminal illness that causes her to lose her time – moments where she hallucinates past and future events. The closer it stays to the timestream, the faster it deteriorates. And the more it deteriorates… Well, that’s not good. She really should leave the Paradox Hotel. But she won’t. Because it’s the only place where she can see the “ghost” of her dead girlfriend during her slides. So we end up with an unreliable detective haunted by her past and her future. Plus a mind-bending, page-turning murder mystery. But the combination of emotional character study and pulpy genre fare ends up being an absolute pleasure to read.
An extremely satisfying read…
The Paradox Hotel there are a lot of things going on at the same time. Some might argue too much. And they would score a point. I mean, there’s a murder mystery, complex political machinations, emotional hauntings and time slips. One of them would be more than enough to form a complicated story. But the combination of all? Absolutely crazy. So the fact that the story works so well is more than impressive. The weakest element is easily political intrigue. Not enough time is spent on the senator and the trillionaires who are all trying to take advantage of each other, even when it comes to the central mystery of the novel. Hart flirts with biting social commentary, but it never quite materializes in the end. It’s interesting, that’s for sure. But a bit difficult to follow and needs a bit more development.
However, it’s hard to care that much given the way Hart executes the novel’s central mystery. The Paradox Hotel delivers the right kind of mystery – one where the mystery is actually solvable. Even without the big monologue at the end that explains everything, you can put together about 80% of the pieces based on just the clues scattered throughout the story. So when this monologue arrives, it feels more clarifying than revealing. And that’s exactly what you’d expect from something like this, where the mystery involves a lot of mind-blowing ideas about time. It’s a complicated mystery, of course. But not so complicated that you feel terribly lost. Instead, you feel like you figure things out alongside January – which is super satisfying and endlessly fun. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a hard-hitting, modernized crime novel.
…made even better by a complex and intriguing protagonist
That being said, The Paradox Hotel isn’t really a murder mystery. Of course, it has all the trappings of a classic, pulpy crime novel. There’s a detective with a haunted past, an eccentric sidekick, a host of red herrings, and even a mystery tied to the detective’s backstory. Corn The Paradox Hotel is not really on all that. Instead, it focuses more on January Cole as a character. And the more the book delves into its history, the more heartbreaking it becomes. Because, basically, The Paradox Hotel is an examination of a woman’s grief at losing the love of her life and the pain of not being able to get over that loss. This emotional core clings to your heart, rooting you for January despite its rough edges and streak of meanness. And that’s the best part of the book.
Now, to be fair, January’s emotional arc is also the most complex part of the book. While The Paradox Hotel doesn’t feature a huge amount of time travel, its exploration of time slippage gets a little confusing. You understand what’s going on, of course. And Hart does a great job of explaining Why January knows these slippages. But the book doesn’t always do a great job of making it clear when she slips. Especially since the book is written from January’s point of view (in the present). Which means we’re experiencing exactly what January experiences, when she experiences them, with little clarification at the time. Which is quite disorienting. To be fair, it’s intentionally disorienting. But that’s probably going to put some people off. However, if you’re willing to roll with it, it’s quite rewarding.
And honestly, that’s true for the whole book. If you are ready to roll with what The Paradox Hotel dishes, you will have a great time. Hart delivers an excellent page-turner of a book. Meticulously and impressively combining elements of time travel, murder mystery and ghost stories, The Paradox Hotel defies classification. But that’s what makes it special. Beneath the delightfully pulpy mystery and immediately engaging world-building lies this story of a girl who just yearns for what she’s lost. To make a family and a home feel safe. And it’s easy to identify with that and become invested in its story. So while the book isn’t perfect, it’s an absolutely delightful, page-turning read. It is a dense and complicated read. But if you’re up for it, you’ll have a lot of fun.
The Paradox Hotel is now available in Hardcover, eBook and Audiobook formats.
Disclaimer: A review copy of The Paradox Hotel was provided by Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine Books and NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Part-time writer, part-time theater nerd, full-time jerk.