2 out of 4 stars
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The Heidelberg Conundrum, referred to in the title of this book, is a mathematical theory deemed unsolvable by the scientific community. Myth has it that these obscure equations hold the key to time travel. Solving them will literally change the world. Everyone from the Swiss Institute in Zurich to the government of every major power in the world, including the US, UK, Germany, and Russia, want to gain control of such incredible power.
Toward this end, college professor and scientist Michael Morgan is hired by the Brechner Institute, one of the players seeking to conquer “this damnable riddle.” But attempting to do so is driving Michael mad. He thinks he sees ghosts in the middle of the night and spends his time doing nothing but thinking about the problem.
The blurb for The Heidelberg Conundrum by Keith F. Girard, promises “intrigue, deceit and the intertwining of two distant worlds across space and time.” These are great ingredients for an engrossing tale, but they are not mixed in a way that produces a satisfying result. There are some truly stellar plot twists along the way, but the writing style doesn’t allow these points to shine as they should.
Some of the opening descriptions are intriguing. “But if she’d seen what he’d seen, the haunting visage, the ephemeral light, the cold breath, she would think much differently.” The sensation of sharing a room with a ghost is vivid in the reader’s mind. In other places, the characters walk, walk, walk when they could skip, stroll, wander, plod, trudge or many other more colorful choices. Overall, this book contains too many adverbs substituting for imaginative language, especially in the dialogue tags. “…he added hesitantly.” “…Mary Ann forcefully interjected.” “…said Mary Ann, incredulously.”
Speaking of Mary Ann, she’s Michael’s live-in girlfriend and the dominant partner in their relationship. She browbeats him at every turn, literally on the drive to the institute, and in the rest of their life together. Their conversations are dull and not reflective of the brilliant minds these two are purported to possess. This discrepancy leaves the reader detached from the characters. I feel sorry for Michael, but I don’t really care what happens to him.
Chapter Two seems like it would be more appropriate as Chapter One, taking off The Shining style with a winding drive to a job interview and a creepy assignment. Soon after, the story spins its wheels. Michael doesn’t make any progress solving the theory’s equations, and the narrative doesn’t advance, either. When it finally does make a leap, it’s through dry conversation about military projects and conspiracy theories. There’s little tension in many of the exchanges. They occur simply to impart information to the reader. In other places, the author “tells” rather than “shows” important scenes. In a movie, these interludes would be shown in montage format with appropriate music, but the results are not so charming on paper.
There’s lots of head hopping in this narrative, leading to jarring transitions and overall confusion. If Michael is the main POV character, then everything has to be viewed through his eyes. For example, Mary Ann “worried to herself that he might be nearing a nervous breakdown.” Michael can’t know something that Mary Ann keeps to herself. “Mary Ann didn’t like what she was hearing.” Unless she says so, Michael can’t know if she likes it or not without other body language or tonal cues. This type of POV break occurs through the book with many of the characters.
At one point, Michael forgets what can only be characterized as a stunning, astonishing, and completely mind-blowing event. The turmoil that should be swirling around him then, and in the ongoing situation, is nonexistent. This is the point where the book goes off the rails. It’s totally illogical for the character to forget something so unparalleled and remarkable. By not exploring this aspect, the author misses what could be the true brilliance of the book.
On the technical side, the errors pile up quickly and permeate the entire book. I’m rating The Heidelberg Conundrum two out of four stars. What could have been an innovative story turns out to be something far more formulaic. Readers who like adventure might like this book, but science fiction fans will be disappointed.
The Heidelberg Conundrum
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