by John A. Heldt
The Refuge is the fourth instalment* of John A. Heldt’s Time Box series which follows the Lane family as they desperately try to evade the maniac software billionaire, Robert Devereaux, and his henchman, Silas Bain.
The Refuge finds the Lanes having travelled to Hawaii, 1941 four months away from the assault on Pearl Harbour. This novel certainly stands alone, Heldt adept as ever at bringing the reader up to speed without compromising or overshadowing the current narrative, but I highly recommend reading the series.
The Refuge offers a slight departure to the previous escapades. Notwithstanding the Lanes perilous position, there is an upbeat, almost playful sense to this story despite the narrative being a little wider than previous novels. It encompasses not only Pearl Harbour, but also the side angle of Devereaux’s grandfather, and new additions to the Lanes. There is much to celebrate in this outing but, storm clouds are also definitely gathering on the horizon.
Heldt packs so much in, it’s gripping, absorbing, and so, so readable. The Lanes are now obviously a little older and we get some focus on the youngest daughter, Ashley, as she hits her teenage stride. Each of the cast’s developments are entirely convincing, and Heldt produces a seemingly inexhaustible supply of really well-drawn characters with depth and individuality for each era that the Lanes find themselves in. Ellen Dale is the real gem in this story, subtly observed and her dialogue so effortlessly natural and self-assured.
Silas Bain is given the merest flicker of emotion and personality which is in contrast to his stone-cold persona so far. I thought it worked well to show his human side, albeit brief, and it elicits a whisper of reader sympathy for the mercenary. The chapters from his perspective provide a brushstroke of foreshadowing ensuring The Refuge is impossible to put down and absolutely nail-biting.
The plot is incredibly well thought out, every eventuality and twist catered for (and some you don’t expect). The tension is almost unbearable in places and the pace is spot-on; fast-moving and brisk to keep the pages turning but not rushed. As with the other three novels, the short chapter structure and perspective switches provide a skilful framework, allowing a nicely rounded view of the action, characters, and their subsequent emotions.
Although the primary driver of the Time Box series is the time travelling, personally, these are historical fiction novels at their finest. The Refuge reads like a thriller yet thrives on fact, and the blending of history and fiction is original and compelling. In addition, Heldt serves up romance for some characters and intrigue for others. It’s never over-engineered, but just thoroughly entertaining and immersive.
As with the previous instalments, the location has been beautifully recreated, not only the landscape of Hawaii but also its culture and sensibilities. The warmth and vibrancy of the island flows from the page and provides contrast to the horror of Pearl Harbour and the poignancy of the Lanes’ situation.
The Refuge; simply another brilliantly researched, plotted, and finely written offering, from a naturally gifted 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