by John A. Heldt
Crown City is the fifth and final instalment* in the Time Box Series following the Lane family as they try to outwit their nemesis, Robert Devereaux. Will they be able to think about settling down in a time of their choosing, or has Devereaux got a final ace up his sleeve?...
This conclusive outing for the now very much extended Lane family has the last half of 1963 in California as the backdrop, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the storm-clouds of Vietnam looming. As ever, it’s incredibly well-realized, little period details and nuances that lend a gentle, faded 60s vibe to the narrative without it being exaggerated.
This book is far more character-driven than the previous. It’s almost as if Heldt wants to really strip back the Lanes to show the reader who each really are, and what they are capable of. He has always been as pains to ensure the individuality of each family member (and supporting characters) shines through in all of their travels, but it has always been how every era has affected them in its differing ways, causing them to improvise and adapt.
However, with Crown City, there is a sense of introspection – not so much how the context influences their behavior, but how the Lanes are conditioning the world around them. There are some lovely little vignettes in this regard; Randy at the lemonade stall was a really poignant, thoughtful scene.
In the first book, Mark and Mary Lane were the foundation and framework of the family and, in subsequent forays, the foreground has been given to their children but in Crown City they return very much as cornerstones to finish what they essentially began. But it’s clear there has been an evolution within them; they are fundamentally the same, but very much shaped by events - as they should be.
Unsurprisingly, given the emotional focus, points of conflict begin to emerge between the family which personally was a good call, they are, on the whole, a very close-knit tribe and the injection of internal drama as opposed to external was a bright, realistic tactic, adding another layer of absorption to an already gripping plot.
Heldt’s plot guarantees page-turning and nail-biting. He capably sets up a number of suspenseful strands with any manner of possible outcomes and throws a few curve-balls in for good measure. Always credible, and as the reader is fairly hurtled towards the conclusion, I still was not too sure how the ending would play out making Crown City a compulsive read.
A new character is introduced, Craig Henderson, who becomes fairly central to the denouement. He could have been a Randy replica but Heldt develops him with subtlety so he is his own man with his own story. Silas Bain is back and I think his resolution was fitting one. The emotion (albeit only towards himself) that briefly appears in Book 4 also returns, causing the reader to wonder whether he will see Devereaux’s instructions through or not.
Ashley, the youngest member of the immediate Lanes at fourteen, had begun to flex her teenage muscles in Book 4 but she really begins to push boundaries in Book 5. For part of the novel, there is a side-narrative involving her, and I really enjoyed it. It made for a nicely contrasting coming of age story that also cleverly reinforced the early 1960s by reference to teenagers’ music, clothing, and behavior.
It must be a little tricky to keep up with the evolving Lane cast and their histories but Heldt manages it. They all have a part to play and he skillfully weaves what is now not unsubstantial backstory through dialogue and observation. Occasionally, I felt Sarah was a little lost and underutilized but her and Jeremy’s foray to Las Vegas was a fun touch and brought them back into the fray.
Crown City provides an intelligent, thrilling, and highly enjoyable conclusion to an excellent series; with the Time Box novels, John A. Heldt has proved beyond doubt that he is an expert storyteller and a masterful writer – highly recommended. *Click here for my review of The Lane Betrayal *Click here for my review of The Fair *Click here for my review of Sea Spray *Click here for my review of The Refuge