THREE DAYS TO NEVER
by Tim Powers
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Tim Powers's novels often feature a mixture of history, science, and the occult. Add to all this a mixture of the style and panache of old Hollywood, a long-term undercover mission by Israel's Mossad, and travel through and outside time, and Powers presents Three Days to Never, the story of what happens after the death of Lisa Marrity when her son, Frank, and his daughter Daphne, begin to look into the mysteries of her life.
Although Marrity died during the Harmonic Convergence of 1987 in the shadow of Mount Shasta, there are indications that she was at her home in Los Angeles immediately before her death. While examining a shed behind her house, Daphne finds a videotape of "Peewee's Big Adventure" and takes it home with her. What Frank and Daphne don't know is that the videotape is part of something larger and two rival groups, the Mossad and the ancient cabal known as The Vespers, would both kill to obtain it.
The videotape, along with a concrete block with Charlie Chaplin's handprints, also found in Lisa Marrity's shed, provide the MacGuffin that drives the story. Along the way, Frank and Daphne begin to learn more about Lisa's past than they had ever known before, Frank's father, who disappeared when he was an infant, makes a reappearance, and Albert Einstein influence, both scientific and personal, is felt throughout.
Powers has frequently demonstrated his ability to handle a convoluted and complex plot, and Three Days to Never doesn't disappoint in this regard. Not only is he capable of writing about the Marritys and the two rival teams, he is able to make the characters on those teams come to life, giving each of them their own, sometimes conflicting motives. This means that Powers's characters come to life when it would have been all too easy for him to make the villains two-dimensional.
There are times in Three Days to Never when it feels as if Powers is trying to accomplish too much. His blend of old Hollywood, mysticism, science, time travel, and ghosts means that he is trying to fit pieces from several different puzzles together to form one coherent picture. While he does a good job, there are times (and minor plotlines) which strain the novel almost, but not quite, to the breaking point.
The world depicted in Three Days to Never is complex and interesting, a demimonde of intrigue floating just below the surface of the world in which we all live, as happens frequently in Powers's novels. There is a fine line between the normal life the Marritys live and the world of intrigue they are suddenly and unwelcomely drawn into with the death of Lisa Marrity and all her secrets. The characters manage to handle this strangeness well and even manage to remain grounded in the more mundane world, partly due to the concerns of Frank's brother-in-law, Uncle Bennett.
Three Days to Never is so packed with ideas and action that it is easy to forget that the title refers the the duration of the novel. Everything that happens, from the first exploration of the burnt out shed behind Lisa Marrity's house on August 17, 1987 until the ultimate resolution only takes until August 20. And yet during that time, Powers treats the reader to historical time dating back to the early years of the twentieth century when Einstein fathered a daughter out of wedlock through the early years of the twenty-first century.
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