Short Stories 366:206 — “Love, Or Something Like It,” by Michael Bracken

coverOof. Crime Travel, an anthology of short crime fiction linked by the inclusion of time-travel, is another rough one after last week’s “Hard Return,” and I think the darkest story of the collection as a whole. “Love, Or Something Like It” centres on Kevin Thompson, a physics PhD candidate who, in 1975, is delivering a paper when the love of his life is murdered back in her apartment’s kitchen. No prints are found (other than the couple’s, of course) to link to a murderer. Kevin is beyond distraught, and is hired by a group trying to work on Time Travel. He is, after all, uniquely motivated, as are all the hired individuals, all of whom lost someone to accident or chance (though he’s the only one who lost someone to murder).

Time, however, is running out. It’s obvious he’s both driven and obsessed with figuring out who killed his wife and preventing it from happening, but by 2018, the people who hired him are tired of zero success. But a last moment breakthrough gets Kevin over the finish line. And while the group has yet to decide what to do with the device, Kevin has no such compunctions, and goes out to finish his own personal vendetta: to get the person who killed the love of his life.

Bracken’s take on the crime, and the ultimate solution, isn’t so much a surprise as it is an inevitability the reader starts to consider as the story unfolds, which turns the story into a ticking-clock of dread, and then delivers exactly that with the final punches of the story. I needed a few moments to just sit with this one, and took a break to find a romance short (where Happy-Ever-Afters are part of the package) before coming back to the anthology. That’s not a criticism of the story, which has exactly the punch it intended, I believe, but more about me as a reader, and how I prefer my stories to offer even a tiny slice of hope.

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