The Didymus Contingency by Jeremy Robinson is a fast-paced thriller that blends action and time travel with interesting characters on a spiritual quest. The story opens with the death of the wife of the main character, Tom Greenbaum. She is a missionary who is killed when she will not disavow her faith. The tragedy colors Tom's life, and when he and partner David Goodman invent time travel, Tom goes back to the time of Jesus to confirm his belief that the resurrection is a myth and Megan's religion a folly.
Fearful of the potential impact on human history should Tom somehow disrupt Christianity's development, David follows him back in time. The two encounter Jesus and his disciples, and experience first-hand some of the important events of the Gospels. Robinson presents Jesus and some of the key disciples as tangible characters – not just caricatures of their Biblical counterparts. Lazarus and Matthew are two personal favorites.
One of the strengths of this novel is the pacing, which is fast, but does not shirk character development or the subplot of Tom's spiritual struggle. It was a fast read, and I never came to a point at which I thought, "This is a good place to take a break."
Although a faith struggle is central to the plot, the book does not come across as preachy. Robinson cleverly spins his tale in such a way that Tom has plausible reasons to question or even disbelieve every purported miracle. Furthermore, the plot thread pertaining to Tom's grapple with his faith in no way detracts from the action element of the plot.
Something I particularly enjoyed is the way in which the "bad guy" element unfolds. Robinson genuinely surprised me not only by his choice for the primary antagonist, but the way he tied it to various story elements. Action thrillers can be linear, and it's fun to have a "Whoa!" moment every so often.
Time travel is critical throughout the story, but Robinson does not delve into the science aspect. Instead, Tom and David's future selves send the time travel devices back in time to them. While this was not a problem for me, as it was an expedient way to get the story moving, someone who picks up the book in hopes of a Michael Crichton-type techno thriller will be disappointed. On the positive side, the plot does deal with the concept of time paradoxes, and delivers some interesting crossings of plot threads, before coming to a conclusion regarding time travel that was a bit surprising.
There are two areas in which I wanted a bit more. The first is in the time travel "enforcement" character. We know very little about him. He's the sterotypical military type who is introduced early on in a very cursory way, and not heard from again until very near the end, at which time he's dispatched cleverly but a bit too easily. In fact, all of the guys with guns are very bad shots. A few providential misses are acceptable, but there were about two too many "How did I miss that shot?" moments for my liking.
The second area in which Didymus is lacking is the inclusion of romantic subplots. Without revealing too much of the story, one romance is basically love at first sight with no development of the relationship. The other came across as, "Oh, by the way, these two are in love." The good news is, I don't read thrillers for the romance. If something had to be sacrificed for the sake of pacing, let it be the mushy stuff.
Overall, The Didymus Contingency is a solid first effort from Jeremy Robinson. It's well worth the purchase, and I'm looking forward to his next novel.