If you’ve ever wanted a book that combines elements of time travel, murder mysteries, and ghost stories all into one, then Rob Hart’s The Paradox Hotel is the book for you. Genre-defying to a fault, The Paradox Hotel crams so much story into its 300-odd pages that it’s kind of a miracle everything works as well as it does. But overall, The Paradox Hotel is a genuinely impressive book. The mystery’s satisfying and well-plotted. The emotional stakes are clear and well-developed. And the book is just so much fun to read – a shining example of a compulsive page-turner.
(NOTE: I received a review copy of The Paradox Hotel from Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine Books and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.)
In the future, time travel not only exists but is available to the extremely wealthy as an exotic vacation. And, of course, all those would-be time travelers need somewhere nice to stay, right? That’s where the Paradox Hotel comes in. Lodging for the rich and powerful. A destination in its own right. Reportedly haunted. And, somehow, losing money. Which is why a U.S. senator has brought a group of the world’s richest trillionaires to the hotel to attend a summit. More of an auction, really, where the U.S. intends to sell the hotel and its accompanying time-port to the highest bidder. Assuming January Cole, the hotel’s head of security, can figure out what’s causing a series of increasingly strange events – velociraptor attacks, missing security footage, assassination attempts, and a dead body only she can see – and put a stop to them before they derail the entire auction.
As if that’s not enough, there’s an extra wrinkle – January Cole, herself. Because January, after years of traveling the time stream as a sort of time cop, has come Unstuck. Meaning that she has some kind of rare terminal disease that results in her having time slips – moments where she hallucinates past and future events. The longer she stays near the time stream, the quicker she deteriorates. And the more she deteriorates… Well, it’s not good. She should really leave the Paradox Hotel. But she won’t. Because it’s the only place she can see the “ghost” of her dead girlfriend during her time slips. So, we’re left with an unreliable detective haunted by her past and her future. On top of a mind-bending, page-turning murder mystery. But the combination of emotional character study and pulpy, genre fare ends up being an absolute delight to read.
The Paradox Hotel has a lot going on, all at the same time. Some might argue too much. And they’d have a point. I mean, there’s a murder mystery, complex political machinations, and emotionally driven hauntings and time slips. One of those would be more than enough to form a complicated story. But the combination of all of them? Absolutely nuts. So, the fact that the story works as well as it does is beyond impressive. The weakest element is easily the political intrigue. Nowhere near enough time is spent on the senator and the trillionaires all trying to take advantage of each other, even as it pertains to the novel’s central mystery. Hart flirts with some biting social commentary, but it never quite comes together in the end. It’s interesting, to be sure. But a little hard to follow and in need of a little more development.
However, it’s hard to care that much given how well Hart executes the novel’s central mystery. The Paradox Hotel delivers the good 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 solely on the clues scattered about the story. So, when that monologue comes, it feels more clarifying than revelatory. And that’s exactly what you want out of something like this, where the mystery involves a lot of mind-bending ideas about time. It’s a complicated mystery, to be sure. But not so complicated that you feel woefully lost. Instead, it feels like you’re figuring things out alongside January – which is super satisfying and endlessly fun. It’s exactly what you want out of a modernized hard-boiled detective novel.
That being said, The Paradox Hotel isn’t really a murder mystery. Sure, it has all the trappings of a classic, pulpy detective novel. There’s a detective with a haunted past, a quirky sidekick, a host of red herrings, and even a mystery that ties into the detective’s backstory. But The Paradox Hotel isn’t really about any of that. Instead, it focuses more on January Cole as a character. And the deeper the book delves into her backstory, the more heartbreaking it gets. Because, at its core, The Paradox Hotel is an examination of one woman’s grief over losing the love of her life and the pain of being unable to move on from that loss. That emotional core latches onto your heart, making you root for January despite her rough edges and her mean streak. And it’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 bit confusing. You understand what’s happening, sure. And Hart does a great job of explaining why January is experiencing these slips. But the book doesn’t always do a great job of making it clear when she’s slipping. Especially since the book’s written from January’s point of view (in the present tense). Meaning that we’re experiencing exactly what January experiences, when she experiences them, with little clarification in the moment. Which is quite disorienting. To be fair, it’s intentionally disorienting. But it’ll probably turn some people off. However, if you’re willing to roll with it, it’s quite rewarding.
And honestly, that’s true of the whole book. If you’re willing to roll with what The Paradox Hotel dishes out, you’re gonna have a fun time. Hart delivers an excellent page-turner of a book. Meticulously and impressively combining elements of time travel, murder mysteries, and ghost stories, The Paradox Hotel defies classification. But that’s what makes it special. Underneath the delightfully pulpy mystery and the immediately engaging worldbuilding is this story about a girl just longing for what she’s lost. For a family and a home to feel safe in. And it’s easy to relate to that and to get invested in her story. So, while the book isn’t perfect, it’s an absolutely delightful, page-turner of a read. It’s a dense, complicated read. But if you’re game for that, you’ll have a lot of fun.
4.5 out of 5 wands.
This review also ran on Geek Vibes Nation.