Just One Damned Thing After The Other, the first title in the series, must surely rank as one of the most appropriately named books ever; because it's true. Every time another catastrophe is averted, and you think you can now breathe a sigh of relief . . . Well, think again because it's not happening. Some other damned thing is just around the bend, and not only do you not have time for a breath, you also don't have time to check that your stun gun is recharged, your pepper spray is handy, or your last enemy is truly down.
The saga begins with Max, Madeleine Maxwell, showing up to interview for a position at St. Mary's Institute of Historical Research, where purportedly they research history. The actual thing they do is top secret, but Max clues into it before the end of the interview and her attempts to pin down the Director to admit to time travel is a humorous beginning to the tale.
In the end, she signs all kinds of non-disclosure documentation, and Dr. Bairstow finally reveals that yes, we do do that here, "although the phrase 'time travel' is so sci-fi. We don't do that. Here at St. Mary's we investigate major historical events in contemporary time."
This series is about so much more than time travel. It's about Life itself, the best of times and the worst of times, the highest highs and the lowest lows; the triumphs and the tragedies. It's about love and loss and survival and surviving, hate and revenge, all packaged up nicely with humor, snarkiness and sarcasm.
A recurring theme throughout the series is Belonging and how difficult it can be to fit in and find a place for yourself, in your own time and place or any other:
"You see, people think it's easy, living in the past. You turn up with a big bag of gold and enough fore-knowledge to ensure you back the right horse, or the right king, or the right dot com companies and retire to count your money. It's not that simple.
Try it in the last hundred years or so and you'll find the lack of National Insurance Number, ID card or credit rating means you're officially a nonperson . . . or you think you'll go back a little further before all these tiresome records were invented, but that doesn't work either.
Society is rigid. Everyone knows everyone else in their world. Everyone has their place in the scheme of things. If you don't belong to a family, a tribe, a village, a guild, whatever, you don't exist then, either. And you can't just pitch up somewhere without mutual acquaintances, recommendations or letters of introduction. Life on the fringes of society, any society in any time is rough."
Max will have reason to know the truth of these words more than once as we follow her and the rest of the St Mary gang through historical events.
Another ongoing theme is the quandary of 'History as immutable." As Historians, they are to observe only, offering no participation or taking actions which might affect the trajectory of the future. Morality is brought into question, how can we stand idly by when people are in danger of dying, when it is so simple to reach over to lift them out of the mud to save them from being trampled. But always, the paradox is present, if we take this action how will the outcome be affected. It is not only this time and place that is in peril, but all the future as well. This question is addressed throughout the books with varying scenarios.
One of the things I really liked is the ability of the historians to poke fun at themselves despite the dire circumstances in which they often land.
"He said, 'Do you remember our first jump together?'
'I certainly do. You peed on me.'
'You want me to do it again? For old times sake?'
'Save it. If we have to go into hiding, we may have to drink our own urine.'
'That's something I've often thought about. Do you drink your own – or the other persons?'
'When you say often thought about… '
'Well, you know every now and then. Just out of idle curiosity.'
'You're not drinking my urine.'
'That's a little selfish. Surely, in our current crisis we should be working together. I'm rather disappointed in this me first attitude.'"
"Historians do tend to get lost in the moment. On some assignments we really could do with a couple of well-trained sheepdogs and a cattle prod."
"The whole city was waking now. Shouts and clanging metal echoed off the buildings. Every dog in the city was yelling his head off. You could tell St. Mary's was in town. 'Good job this is a stealth operation, Major. Imagine if people knew we were here.'"
"On the other hand, we wouldn't be St. Mary's if something wasn't on fire somewhere."
"Sometimes, the word 'shambles' just doesn't even begin to describe us…"
Despite their predilection to deprecating each other and their institution, they are extremely loyal to both. They go to the ends of the earth to defend their counterparts, even when there's nothing to work with. "'We'll think of something,' said Peterson. 'We're St. Mary's.'"
And after every adventure . . . "in the distance I could hear shouting. And screaming. Familiar sounds. St. Mary's thundered past on their way to make a crisis considerably worse. It was nice to be home."
"I had no idea what was going on. An hour ago I was talking to a horse and now here I was, back in the Cretaceous period sixty-seven million years ago, and with a man who'd been dead for nine months. You couldn't make it up."
One catastrophe averted. A new catastrophe set to begin.
But WHEN? When when when will we see the next book? Not a clue to be found, anywhere I could see, including at the end of the most recent book. Sheer frustration setting in.
Many many thanks to Expendable Mudge for the recommendation.