Book Review: The End of Marking Time

I really wasn’t sure what to expect of The End of Marking Time by C.J. West. I had just received my Kindle and was looking for free e-books to get a feel for the device before making any sort of commitment. I found the author through the Indie Spot forums, where he was offering free copies of his book. I was mildly interested in the bare plot I quickly skimmed on his website, so I sent off a quick email requesting a digital copy.

The first thing I liked about this book had nothing to do with the plot or the characters or anything specifically with the book itself. What I really liked, was that it was a digital copy. I didn’t know how much I would enjoy reading a book on my Kindle. I’m not a complete convert, but being able to read while on the elliptical at the gym is definitely awesome. I’ve seen other people at the gym holding their books, but I was never able to get the hang of it. The type was always too small for my eyes to focus on while moving. With the Kindle, I can make the words big enough that I can see them while moving and there’s a nice little spot on the elliptical for me to put the Kindle so I don’t even have to hold it. And with the easy push of a button, the page is turned.

And actually, the few times I used the stationary bike at the gym, I was still able to manage holding the Kindle and turning pages with only one hand. It’s pretty sweet.

But that is a review of the Kindle, not the book. So let’s get to the book review…

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I read The End of Marking Time as a futuristic social commentary on the criminal justice system, while throwing in a mystery to draw the reader in. Michael O’Connor is a criminal who has spent his (relatively short) life perfecting his crime. He is in his early twenties and has been on the streets since he was fifteen; he is cocky in his criminal behavior in that he feels he is above other criminals because he only robs people who are wealthy, and he has never hurt anybody. Physically.

Michael is on his way to prison when the transport bus is hijacked and through the commotion Michael is injured and falls into a coma. While he is “sleeping” the entire criminal justice system is completely re-worked. Two million prisoners are released and one Wendall Cummings develops a reeducation program that is adopted to help criminals re-learn the ways of society. When Michael awakes, he is thrown into a society where his “skills” will no longer help him. Paper money no longer exists. Thumbprint scanners are used to make payments on all services. Michael is ushered into the reeducation system, where everyone is given $40K a year to survive and all he has to do is complete a series of videos that will help him adjust to a life without crime.

The interesting part of this book is how it is told. The story is told by Michael, who is trapped in a hallway and believes he is speaking to a jury of thirteen people who will pass the ultimate judgment on his life. He is begging the audience to press the green button, which will give him another chance to change his life. He begs them not to press the red button, which will – as I understand it – sentence him to death. The protagonist’s voice reminded me of The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, without making me feel quite so drugged out.

The mystery of the book is focused around what Michael has done to be trapped in front of this faceless jury (they are supposedly behind a one-way mirror he is speaking in front of) but also who is actually sitting behind that mirror.

So Michael wakes up from this coma and is thrown into a reeducation system that he is unfamiliar with. The rest of society, especially the criminals, have had five years to learn about the system. And even though I can grant him some immunity from judgment because he is thrown into the unknown, he still becomes an irritating character when he makes the same mistakes over and over.

Michael is told that he cannot graduate from the reeducation system until he finishes this series of 52 videos. They start off as simple tasks, sitting in a virtual classroom and deciding whether or not to tell on classmates who are bullying another. An ankle bracelet is put on him, and he is told he should not remove it. Even though the bracelet can come off easily, that bracelet is what marks him as a “relearner” so the rest of society knows. When  he enters a store, a chime is heard so others know that a relearner has entered. They all tense until they hear a second chime, which notifies them that he is current in his program and should pose no threat.

I’m not sure I’m explaining it very well, but even after the first time Michael takes the ankle bracelet off and the system is clearly explained to him, he still takes the bracelet off again. And again. He didn’t go very far in school before turning to a full-time life of crime, but he still seems like one of the stupidest stupid people in literature. He even gets suggestions from other relearners to just follow the program, don’t get out of line, and you can be done before you know it. These people are honest about the program and where he might be headed if he can’t follow the rules, and still he breaks rule after rule.

I wouldn’t say that Micheal eventually becomes a likable character, but he does become a little smarter. A little. Wendall’s program isn’t the only reeducation program, and Michael somehow comes to think it is his job to find proof that another program leader (Nathan Farnsworth) is cheating the system and is given all the lesser criminals, while Wendall is given hardened criminals – ones who are more likely to enter the reeducation program over and over until, eventually, they are sent to the “catbaggers”. Without going into too much detail, criminals sent to the catbaggers typically end up jumping out of a window to escape the inhumane torture that occurs. And if Wendall doesn’t have relearners reenter society without turning back to crime soon, his program is going to be defunded. Michael takes it upon himself to start sneaking around town to find evidence against Farnsworth, in an effort to help Wendall, the only person Michael has really felt is on his side.

The plot becomes a little clouded, but  there is still an air of suspense as the story nears it’s climactic moment when Michael is finally trapped in the hallway and the plot comes full circle. Now he is trapped and has to plead for another chance. Even though he’s been given a million chances. It wasn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat suspense, but it was still enough to keep me reading last night just to find out what happens.

One complaint before this review comes to a close. Although the entire book is basically a monologue by Michael, I still would have liked to see a little less exposition and little bit more dialogue. Other than that, the book is pretty decent. There were a few typo errors that bugged me, but I’m kind of obsessive about that.

Oh? And the big mystery at the end? Not entirely that unpredictable. I was just mildly annoyed that if Michael had taken five minutes to think about how society changed while he was in the coma, he might have been able to avoid this entire thing.

Learn more about the author, C.J. West, at his website: http://www.22wb.com/. You can read a biography, and summaries of his other books. Follow him on twitter @cjwest, like him on Facebook, and you can find him on Good Reads too. C.J. is offering a free e-book version of The End of Marking Time. Just send him an email: authors (at) 22wb (.) com and ask nicely.

***Disclosures: This book was provided to me by the author. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own. This review also includes affiliate links.***

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