The new novel from Kristine Kathryn Rusch hits the ground running and never stops. "Snipers" opens in 1913, with a time-traveling assassin on the loose in Vienna's wintry streets. Even as he carries out a series of seemingly random shootings, another incursion from the future is unfolding as a plot to destroy the city using a portable nuclear device unfolds.
Jump ahead to 2005, and we find Vienna intact. Clearly, the bomb plot has been foiled... or has it? Just as clearly, the killer has left his mark on history, killing a number of people both obscure and preeminent, among them Sigmund Freud and a pauper named Adolph Hitler.
Sofie Branstadter is one of the sniper's victims, though at a remove: After the original gunman slipped through the grasp of the police, intermittent waves of copycat killers roiled Austria. Among the fatalities of one random attack were Sophie's own parents. Now, obsessed by the clues and evidence assembled almost a century ago by Johann Runge, one of Vienna's greatest police detectives, Sophie seeks fresh evidence to lay to rest some of the lingering mysteries that still surround the original shootings. To do so, she needs the help of Runge's grandson, a world-famous composer named Anton Runge.
Though Anton is suspicious at first, and unwilling to be dragged into the cold case that ruined his grandfather's reputation, the ever-deepening mystery proves too tantalizing. What became of boxes and boxes of missing evidence? Did Johann Runge take them? If so, why? And how could a strange bullet recovered from the exhumed corpse of a victim from 1913 be covered in a high-tech polymer? Most compelling of all is the mystery of Anton's increasing attraction to Sophie -- and her matching feelings for him.
Rusch explores the mind-bending possibilities of time travel and alternate realities with relish, but never allows the novel to stray too far from its gritty, procedural straight-and-narrow; keeping the story taut and suspenseful, the author spins one of her trademark stories that brims with intelligence and surprise. The action moves at a breakneck pace (most of the chapters are quite short), which contributes to a sense of breathless velocity: To what climactic revelation are these characters, separated by decades but joined by unfathomable secrets, racing?
Rusch depicts a world just at the dawn of the 20th century with meticulous detail and then delights in dropping a man from the future into the middle of it. The ripples his anachronistic presence cause bring a kinetic heat to the story as a whole. This is one of a breed of speculative fiction novels that implies a much larger universe for storytelling, which is also a Rusch speciality. When the last page scrolls by, this story will still just be getting started in the reader's piqued, excited imagination.
"Snipers," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.