the Little Red Reviewer

Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers

Posted on: October 21, 2013

Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers

published in 2007

where I got it: gift from a friend (and she got it autographed! I have the best blogger buddies ever!)

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Tim Powers is usually described as a writer of literary thrillers, but I prefer to call what he writes gateways to speculative fiction. He starts with what really happened, and fills in the blanks, takes you a wild ride, and still manages to prove that truth is stranger than fiction.  Far more fascinating than alternate history, this is secret history.

Three Days to Never was written in 2006, but it takes place in 1987, and it was refreshing to experience a thriller set in a time where cellphones and the internet weren’t ubiquitous.   The story starts innocently enough when  Frank Marrity gets a weird phone call from his grandmother Lisa, she says she’s going to burn her backyard shed down. By the time he gets to her house, he learns that she passed away at a national park located hours away. Frank’s daughter Daphne makes jokes about there being gold buried under Grammar’s shed. More unexpected than finding gold buried under the shed, they find a bundle of letters between Lisa and her father, and a VHS tape of PeeWee’s Big Adventure. First things first, Frank needs to meet with his sister Moira and arrange their grandmother’s funeral.

Frank and his sister were raised by their grandmother Lisa, who everyone calls Grammar, after their father left the family and their mother died in a car crash. Frank has always hated his absent father and blamed him for causing his mother’s possible suicide.  He’s always wondered how Grammar could be so cavalier about her own son abandoning his family.

One of Tim Powers’ many superpowers is taking what really happened, and filling in the blanks with the plausible. He does this better than any other author out there.  The more of Three Days to Never I read, the more I wanted to find out what was real and what wasn’t. There’s more of what actually happened in this book than what might have happened when no one was watching.

 The letters between Lisa and her father reveal that she was the daughter of Albert Einstein. Born Lieserl in 1902, she was reported as dying of scarlet fever, but was actually adopted by a family friend. Einstein shared many of his theories and discoveries with his daughter, and she even built on some of them. Buried in her shed is a component of Einstein’s little machine, something he tinkered with most of his life, something he told people never worked.

What Einstein came up with, what he told no one about, no one but his secret daughter, was how to build a time machine. They even made it work a few times, but Einstein spent the rest of his life being haunted by what to him, were disastrous results.  Einstein and Lieserl thought no one else knew about the time machine. They were wrong.

Frank certainly hasn’t advertised about the letters he found, or what’s on the strange VHS tape, or what happened when Daphne tried to watch it.  But the groups who have been listening and watching closely since 1955, they know exactly what to watch for, and now they are on Frank’s tail. One group, a splinter team of the Israeli Mossad, is after the time machine with the mission of returning to 1967 to change one tiny moment. Their agent, Lepidopt, has been training for this for years, but if he succeeds, his son may never be born.  The other group, the Vespers, is assisted by a blind woman who sees through the eyes of anyone around her, and a mummified head that speaks backwards.  And then there’s the curmudgeonly old man who shows up and introduces himself as Frank Marrity’s father, missing since 1955.  But Marrity the elder remembers things very differently from his son, for example, he remembers Daphne dying at age twelve, but he also remembers her growing up to become an alcoholic.

Secret cults, a time machine, ouija boards that work, telepathy, Kabbalic myths, Charlie Chaplin’s stolen handprints, astral projection, seances, and a man who has no parents but two children.  Powers makes it all feel completely plausible.

By talking a lot about the plot I’ve made the book feel very plot heavy, and it is, but it doesn’t feel that way while you’re reading it. Powers takes plenty of opportunities to give us background on the characters and to describe where everything is taking place.  Once you get a few chapters into Three Days to Never, the pages begin to fly by, you don’t even realize the plot is starting to race by,  you become even more curious about Frank’s Father, you want to read all the ghost sections over again and backward (an excellent explanation is given as to why time moves backwards for the ghosts. No one does ghosts like Tim Powers, no one.), and you want to read every Einstein and Charlie Chaplin biography you can find, if only you could tear yourself away from this roller coaster of a thriller.

As the storylines between Frank and Daphne, the Mossad agents, and the secret cult known as the Vespers converge, the stakes become life and memory. Beyond changing the events of the past, it’s possible to erase a person from existence, erase them from everything.

And the Vespers have a freaking mummified head in a box, and it talks.

If you’re not intrigued yet, I don’t know if we can stay friends.

You know all those little wordcraft tricks that other authors talk about? How to seamlessly add world building into each sentence, how to get the reader to sympathize with the bad guys, how to create each character as a chiaroscuro of every decision they are faced with? All of that is second nature to Tim Powers. He even handles the pesky time paradoxes with elegance.

In closing, I offer an open letter to Tim Powers:  You made this review very hard to write. I try to take notes while I’m writing, things like basic plot points, my thoughts on the characters, a scene that made me laugh, maybe some page numbers of passages I really liked.  But to write those notes I have to get out of the story, I have to remember that I’m sitting in my kitchen, drinking coffee, and reading a piece of fiction. And Mr. Powers, you make it impossible to get out of the story in the first place.

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8 Responses to "Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers"

Wow. I am all in now. This sounds like the kind of thriller I have been searching for. I have had people recommend powers before, but never seen someone tell my why quite so well.

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This does look like a good one. I just finished reading another great political thriller titled , “No One Can Know” by Adrienne LaCava http://adriennelacava.com/ a great book that takes multiple POVs with differing perspectives on 1960’s issues. Since finishing, I am been on the prowl for a new read. Loved your review. I will definitely be checking out “Three Days To Never”

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aren’t political thrillers a blast?? this one hasn’t got much politics, per se, but the characters are trying to affect political events, in a sense.

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Oh man, you sold me on this book and I am adding it to my reading list! I have never read anything by Tim Powers, though he has been on my radar for some time and this book looks like a perfect place to start. Great review!

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If I confess to never reading Tim Powers, can we still be friends?

I’ll try one though. There’s an awful lot I haven’t read.

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we’ll always be friends. especially if you try a Tim Powers.

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Yes, I’ve also not read any *gulp*. But, I do have one of his books on my kindle – Dinner at Deviants Palace – have you read that??
Lynn :D

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that’s one i haven’t read. which means. . . . you gotta read it and tell me how it is!

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