Door Number Three

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Patrick O’Leary’s debut novel manages to rescue the worn plot device of time travel and wring from it a thrilling and complex adventure. As the novel opens, mental health therapist John Donelly and inventor Saul Lowe are burning a time machine. That action leads into Donelly’s narrative of how he became involved with Laura, who claimed to be an alien, and later with Lowe, the inventor of the time machine.

When Laura first sees Donelly, she insists that she is the daughter of an earthling father and an alien father, with no mother. She says she has eleven months to prove that she is alien to a sane person; if she can do so, she can stay on Earth. Donelly takes her as a patient and later becomes her lover. He believes that Laura is delusional but cannot find a way to break her delusions.

The novel is told from Donelly’s memory, so is not entirely chronological. Early in his narrative, Donelly foreshadows later events by stating that Laura told him she wanted his help in ending the world. The narrative eventually catches up with that startling request. Laura tells Donelly about the Holock, alien beings who are stealing the dreams of humans. The Holock are unable to dream for themselves and use human dreams for entertainment.

Even though Donelly does not believe Laura’s story, he comes to see her as dangerous when another doctor who had being seeing her is found murdered. Laura disappears, and as Donelly tracks her, he encounters Saul and a police detective, both of whom assist him in his search. All the characters are brilliantly drawn. The primary plot, with its many twists and turns of action and shifting allegiances, is complemented by asides into relationships between doctors and clients, mothers and sons, and brothers, as well as into religions of various types.