Matthieu Zela is at his wit's end. His twenty-two-year-old nephew Tommy, a hugely popular English television celebrity, is living on the edge, snorting cocaine and partying
until all hours of the morning. Matthiew fears Tommy will end up like his ancestors, everyone one of whom has met with an unhappy ending.
Born in 1743 Paris, Matthieu seems to always
have had a nephew tagging along beside him, and the various generations of Thomases have always been troublesome. Now over 250 years old, this media entrepreneur has courted the rich and famous and witnessed some of the most defining moments of three centuries.
In 1758, fifteen-year-old Matthieu escapes Paris for Dover after his stepfather horribly murders his mother. Matthieu takes
with him his five-year-old brother, Tomas, and an older companion, the lovely Dominique Sauvet, a girl whom he meets on the voyage over.
Matthieu struggles to make a life for himself in this new country, and many adventures await him. But the biggest surprise is that, in 1793, the process begins which is to make him truly "a thief of time," when he stops physically aging.
At first Matthieu is shocked, but as he lives on, he realizes that this kind of enforced longevity perhaps isn't that bad after all. Life continually leads him in different and unexpected directions, and what could have begun to unravel ends up in fact being a life well-lived,
albeit filled with murder, betrayal, marriage and romance.
Drifting somewhere between literary fiction and the totally absurd, The Thief of Time also reads like an historical treatise on the last few centuries as Matthieu's path veers from stable boy in the seventeenth century to a nineteenth-century industrialist and on to an influential twentieth-century media entrepreneur.
Along the way are littered failed marriages and women who blend together and separate.
Then there is the problem of what to do about his nephews - "256 years old and he's sat back and watched nine of the Thomases die and done nothing at all to prevent any of these tragedies."
Boyne moves his plot along at breakneck speed as he weaves his time-traveling adventure talem immersing the reader into these different periods of history. The problem is that Matthieu often comes across as a blank slate, rather one-dimensional.
It's as though Boyne is more concerned with telling a story of history rather than figuring out what really makes his protagonist tick.
Consequently, The Thief of Time works well as an historical adventure novel, with all of its drama and behind-the-scenes machinations. However, the actual character of Matthiew ends up flat and perfunctory, in the end not as interesting as he should or could have been.