The Map of Time

By Felix J. Palma (Atria Books, 609 pages, $26)

You don't read this book: You strap yourself and hang on. From the very first page, the "dear reader" is welcomed to "plunge into the thrilling pages of this melodrama, where you will find adventures of which you never dreamt!" It's a carnival barker's promise, on which Felix J. Palma delivers. This riveting, romantic and crisply written book is set in a Victorian England haunted by Jack the Ripper and entranced by the idea of time travel. In it, the real author of "The Time Machine," H.G. Wells is thrown into a series of fictional situations from which the self-doubting writer emerges as a hero. He rescues a suicidal man, unites a young beauty with the man of her dreams and saves himself from a sinister threat from the future.

The book is peopled with a cast of characters so real you can almost see them. The exception is the omniscient narrator, who remains invisible while he yanks his dear readers out of scenes he considers "too tedious," fills in silences and interrupts the action to give a back story.

Palma is clearly manipulating us, but he's also challenging our understanding of time and poking fun at writers and "discerning readers ... who reject the entertainments of popular fiction in favor of more serious, profound literature." It's all wickedly fun. And, as with the best of novels, reading it is like traveling through time.