Mariah Garrett is in a bit of a rut. Four years after being shot by a college classmate, she’s become an agoraphobe, unable to leave Gull Cottage, her family’s vacation home in Surfside Beach, Texas. She also struggles with panic attacks, which she personifies as “the Caveman.” One day, Mariah finds a way out of her routine after she removes a wood panel in her attic, revealing a previously unknown set of stairs. She descends the staircase and ends up in the kitchen of her great-grandmother Mama Foss and great-grandfather Poppa B—in 1957. Back in the present, a mummified body, estimated to have died in the ’50s, is unearthed at the town pier. Mariah decides to solve the present-day mystery by investigating it in the past. However, her impulsive, present-day best friend, Phoebe Gilliam, steals the corpse’s head, hoping for a cash windfall from the National Enquirer. Then the body itself disappears, and Phoebe stashes the head in Mariah’s pantry. Mariah finds herself drawn to the simpler times of the Sputnik era, and especially a handsome fellow named James Dean (no relation to the actor); they soon develop a mutual attraction. Time literally flies in this fast-paced first volume of a planned series. Along the way, Russell crafts a clever blend of whodunit and social commentary. Mariah is a likable lead who’s smart and sassy, able to think quickly on her feet. The secondary cast members of both eras are similarly engaging—the teen version of Mariah’s savvy Great Aunt Mae, a wise young skateboarder named Paul Henle, and Shirley Raft, Mae’s oddball best friend. Readers may think that Mariah should stand out more in the ’50s, but thanks to her knowledge of history (and her use of present-day Google), she makes minimal slips—other than trying to pass her cellphone off as a compact.
A promising series debut that will make readers eagerly await the next volume.