4 out of 4 stars
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The Operator is Howard Gershkowtiz's debut novel and was inspired by a 1927 telephone switchboard at the historic Hassayampa Inn located in Prescott, Arizona. As Gershkowtiz mused about the hotel during the Roaring Twenties, his thoughts turned to historical events such as the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Great Depression, and World War II. What if there was a way to go back in time and prevent the tragedies?
Stockbroker Harold Russell and his wife, Laura, take a trip to the small town of Prescott in hopes of rekindling their marriage. They stay at a charming hotel, and Harold admires the lobby's period pieces. He is intrigued when he notices a lovely young operator connecting calls on a vintage switchboard, but after realizing Laura doesn't see anyone working the console, Harold fears he may be hallucinating. Later that night, he again encounters the stunning operator, Talia Sanders. Apparently, Harold has somehow stumbled back in time, and they ring in the new year together. When he wakes up the following morning with Laura, Harold wonders if his time with Talia could have been a dream. However, a few days later, he awakens to find he has returned to 1929. This time, Harold explains to Talia that he has traveled through time from 2017. Though she initially doesn't believe him, Harold convinces her by sharing the impending tragedies that will impact the world. Together, they devise a plan they hope will prevent the Great Depression, but then Harold is thrust back into the present. Their efforts appear to have been in vain until Harold learns Talia has appointed him as the trustee of a billion-dollar account to help prevent the next great financial collapse. As Harold attempts to implement Talia's instructions, he is confronted by her greedy son who believes he is entitled to the money. Hoping he can once again travel back in time to seek Talia's help, Harold must wade through political corruption and dangerous liaisons--all while struggling to explain the turn of events to Laura.
Unlike anything I've read before, I found it hard to put down this suspenseful page-turner. The plot is creative, complex, and moves at a fast pace. The author does an excellent job of blending several genres including historical fiction, romance, sci-fi, and political thriller. Since I tend to steer away from sci-fi, I was impressed by the author's ability to keep me engaged through the end. He paid meticulous attention to details, successfully avoiding the plot gaps that might be associated with a time-travel storyline. Also, the author seamlessly bridged the relevant quandary regarding how one change in history might have multiple potentially adverse effects.
The strength of the book is its cast of well-developed characters who are relatable and will connect with readers. The protagonist, Harold, voices realistic and slightly humorous reactions and objections regarding his unintentional experiences with time travel. His time-travel partner, Talia, provides a glimpse into the life of a strong woman who is ahead of her time and becomes a social activist. At first glance, Harold's wife, Laura, comes across as the stereotypical nagging wife. However, as the story unfolds, she reveals hidden depth and fierce loyalty to Harold. I also appreciated the author's consistency related to specific periods in history including clothing, slang language, furnishings, and even the appropriate coins for the time.
Though hard-pressed to highlight any areas for improvement, my least favorite portions of the book are those dwelling on sci-fi jargon. When I read words like "wormholes, cosmic membrane, and multi-dimensional transdural synapses," my thoughts echo Harold's response, "I just stared at him, convinced he'd crossed the fine line between genius and gibberish." Even so, the phrases and terminology are integral to the plot and didn't detract from my overall reading enjoyment. Additionally, the book is professionally edited as I noted only a few errors.
I'm pleased to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. With its effortless blending of genres, it will appeal to a wide range of readers including fans of historical fiction, political thrillers, romance, and even those who don't typically appreciate sci-fi. Due to plot-related violence and profanity, I recommend it to a mature audience.
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