Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nick of Time

by Tim Downs

Thomas Nelson, 2011
336 pages

Page Turning Murder Mystery

As fiction readers, many of us know a fictional character or two we love seeing in action on an annual basis. After following their adventures for a few years, you feel you know the character intimately. Some of my personal favorites are Steven James' Patrick Bowers, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, William Kent Krueger's Corcoran O'Connor, and Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp. Each of these characters are highly defined. They have specific and unique traits, and they're all very human, not immune to mistakes, misjudgments, and failures.

One of my all-time favorite characters would be highly insulted if you called him human: Tim Downs' bug man, Nick Polchak. Nick is a forensic entomologist, which means he studies bugs on dead people. He finds bugs far more fascinating--and definitely more reliable--than the human species from which he likes to keep his distance.

But in Downs' latest, Nick of Time, things change. You see, Nick is engaged to be married (to another wonderfully quirky character, Alena) and his wedding is coming up within a week. Yet, even with his impending nuptials, Nick decides to attend an out-of-town meeting leaving Alena behind to finalize wedding plans.

The problem is, when he arrives at the meeting, his good friend, who would never miss the meeting, isn't there. Naturally, Nick has to go look for him. And finds him dead.

Now Nick completely disregards the fact that he's supposed to get married on Saturday and strikes out to find his friend's murderer. Add to that, Alena begins her own investigation as she searches for Nick, and you've got a page-turning mystery.

In Nick of Time, Polchak's sarcastic wit is back in full force. His dialogue is rife with tactless honesty and he says things that many of us probably want to say but are too nice. Even in the middle of a murder mystery I find myself chuckling out loud.

My one complaint about Downs' writing is that the dialogue sounds the same no matter who is speaking and each of his characters seem to have the same sardonic wit. If Downs could make his characters' voices unique and give them a disparate personality, his writing would greatly improve. But, I'm willing to forgive this one flaw since I enjoy Nick Polchak so much.

What I really liked in this book was seeing Nick "evolve" into a human. In a "lightbulb" moment, Nick finally realizes who is is ... and what he is not ...

And what is truly important in life.

The question is, does he realize that in the Nick of Time, or he is too late?
Tim Downs is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Indiana University. After graduation in 1976 he created a comic strip, Downstown, which was syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate until 1986. His cartooning has appeared in more than a hundred major newspapers worldwide.  His first book, a work of non-fiction, was awarded the Gold Medallion Award in 2000, and his third novel, PlagueMaker, was awarded the Christy Award for best CBA suspense novel of 2007. Tim lives in Cary, North Carolina, with his wife Joy.
Learn more about Tim Downs at


  1. Wish I could read your review because I know it's good, but you know me: I have to read the book first, not the review. ;) However, I did enjoy the first two paragraphs. Can't wait to read this one.

  2. You'll love the book, Nicole. It was one of my favorites. Once you've read it, you'll have to come back & share your opinion.