This reading group guide for The 13th Hour includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Richard Doetsch. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Nick Quinn finds himself stuck in a police station, accused of an unspeakable horror: the murder of his beloved wife, Julia. The police refuse to believe that Nick had nothing to do with her death. As they leave him to his fate, a mysterious man enters and makes a tempting offer: “If you could get out of here, if you could save her, would you?” He places a gold watch in Nick’s hands and tells him that he now has the ability to relive the past twelve hours, hour by hour, in order to stop his wife’s killer. The only catch is that he will live them in reverse.
Nick ventures back through time attempting to stop the death of the woman he loves but soon realizes that he is caught up in bigger events than he could ever imagine. While dodging confused friends, taking on corrupt cops, and reliving a horrific plane crash over and over, Nick will discover that his best efforts in the past often have disastrous results in the future.
The 13th Hour tells the story of an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey to change the course of history to save the life of the woman he loves. History, as Nick discovers, is very resistant to change.
1. The 13th Hour begins with a note from author Richard Doetsch that readers will not be mistaken when they turn to the first page and find it is Chapter 12. Why do you think Doetsch chose to tell the story in reverse? What elements did it add to the novel? How would the story have been different if Nick relived his day from the beginning as opposed to the end?
2. The horrific crash of Flight 502 initially seems to be just part of the backstory of The 13th Hour. When does Nick (and the reader) realize that the crash of Flight 502 must be prevented? What makes him come to this realization?
3. With each “jump” that he makes, Nick is able to retain his memory and whatever items were on his person. How would the story have been different if his memory/objects did not jump with him?
4. Marcus comments, “The power of knowing the future could corrupt even the most noble heart” (p. 185). Do you agree with Marcus? Would most people, if given the power of time travel, use it for their own personal gain?
5. What “good” comes of the horrific events in The 13th Hour? How can bad events help us to take stock of our lives?
6. Discuss the dichotomy between Detective Shannon and Detective Dance. Who initially came off as the “bad” cop? Why? How did this change throughout the book? When did Nick finalize realize whom he could trust?
7. Nick struggles with the thought that Flight 502 is always destined to crash. Do you agree that certain events, no matter how hard we try, are bound to happen? Why or why not? Were you surprised that the flight was saved rather indirectly?
8. What was Julia’s reason for heading to Boston? Why was she keeping it secret? Would the events of July 28th have impacted Nick differently if he knew her secret?
9. Shamus Hennicot reveals the original uses of the fabled watch: What were they? How does that contrast to what Nick used it for? How does Nick’s adventure speak to the benefits and drawbacks of time travel?
10. Why do you think the author ends The 13th Hour before Nick discovers what Julia’s secret is? How do you think he reacted? How did the events of The 13th Hour prepare Nick to receive that news?
11. What does it mean that there are two watches out there? Does that double the potential for evil actions or for good? Discuss.
Enhancing Your Book Club
1. Did you enjoy The 13th Hour? Learn more about the author and his other works by visiting www.richarddoetsch.com.
2. Ever have a moment in your life that you wish you could change? What would you do if you had a chance to relive twelve hours of one day, in reverse? Write down your thoughts and discuss with your book club.
3. Marcus writes a note to his “past” self to prove Nick’s story. If you were to do the same, what is one thing you would put in that would make you realize you wrote it? Write yourself your own note and share it with your book club!
A Conversation with Richard Doetsch
1. How did you come up with such an intriguing plot? What was the inspiration?
I had never seen a novel written backwards before and thought it would be a great challenge. I think we all have a moment in life that we would like to change, be it a decision at work, something we said to a girlfriend or boyfriend, or sometimes something greater like expressing our true feelings for a friend or family member before they slipped out of our lives or saving someone from a tragedy if we could only reach out our hand in that one fateful moment. I think it is something universal, something everyone thinks about at some point, something that bridges languages and cultures. How great would it be to act on hindsight?
2. When writing The 13th Hour, did you actually write the story forwards and then just reverse the order, or was it always a story told in reverse? Was it ever difficult to keep the continuity of the various story arcs straight?
Writing the thirteen hours was like playing five games of chess in my head at the same time. I wrote the story backwards in the same way the reader experiences it. In so doing, I had to remember the future and the past before they had even occurred. It was difficult but fun as it was like a giant puzzle whose every move reverberated throughout the story.
3. From loyal best friends to corrupt cops to innocent bystanders, The 13th Hour has quite the cadre of characters. Are any of them based on people you know? Do you have a Marcus of your own?
Julie Quinn, Nick’s wife, is based on my wife, Virginia. Her personality, her mannerisms, intelligence and beauty, everything except her blond hair (Virginia has dark brown hair) are spot-on. In the same manner, Nick is based on myself. Marcus is actually an amalgam of friends. I’m very lucky to have such a diverse group of friends who not only are there for me but whose unique backgrounds and personalities are always food for fodder.
4. You keep readers turning the pages by having Nick fail each time he tries to stop both Julia’s death and the crash of Flight 502. He finally succeeds, only to be shot and almost die doing so. Was there ever a draft of The 13th Hour in which Nick did not save the day? Or was there always a happy ending?
The draft that is the final book is the only version. I actually wrote the story in thirty days as a personal challenge and found it to be the most fun I had ever had writing. I always intended to have a happy ending, to save Julia; it was only fair, after putting her through so much hell.
5. Your characters share their thoughts on the power that Nick has been given. What are your thoughts on the matter? What would you do if given such a power?
Revising history is so dangerous. I think that we learn from our failures, mistakes, and wrong choices. So often what we think to be a failure shapes our future and makes us stronger, a theme that is explored in various ways throughout The 13th Hour.
If there was one thing I would change, it would be going back to early September 2001 and making sure the FBI rolled up those men before they ever got near a plane. Think how different our world be: three thousand lives saved, two wars avoided. I don’t think you would find a single American that would disagree with that reach back in time. But ponder for a moment the potential impact on those who have remarried, on the children born, on elections, financial markets, and new jobs—the domino effect of that one change would be tremendous to many, yet devastating to many more.
6. As Nick travels through time, those he encounters seem to trust his knowledge of future events. If a friend presented you a note from a “future you,” how would you react?
I would be surprised but would embrace it; if we can’t trust ourselves, whom can we trust? Moreover, how do you think you would react to meeting a future version of yourself? I would listen to what he/I would have to say. We all learn from our falling down, our failures and mistakes; future me would have already done that, fallen down and failed, so I think it would be prudent to listen. Of course, if I acted on his advice, that future me won’t have had those trials and tribulations and therefore wouldn’t have the experience and knowledge to impart to present me, thereby negating the conversation. If you can follow that . . .
7. It is exciting news that The 13th Hour has been optioned by New Line Cinema. How do you think the story will translate onto the big screen?
The screenplay is finished and, unlike so many book-to-movie adaptations, came out great and very close to what you see on the page.
8. As well as being a novelist, you are the president of a New York–based real estate company. How did you make the jump from businessman to author?
Life is so short, I learned long ago to budget my time and self-motivate. I want to get as much out of this ride as possible. Who wants to get to the end of their life and say they tasted only one flavor?
My first novel was written mostly on the train to and from work and then from eleven till two in the morning. Now, without the burden of a commute, and the freedom that hard work has afforded me, I find the time to write four hours in the morning, two hours in the late afternoon, and four hours late at night. Some people drink to forget, play golf to get away, watch TV to escape; I get all of that plus much more when I sit down to write. I’m very lucky.
9. What advice do you have for a budding writer?
Everyone says to write every day. While I obviously agree with and do that, I actually go one step further and write a new story every day. Not a full story, usually just a page, an outline in three acts. I believe to be a good storyteller you have to hone that skill, you can’t expect to come up with a great idea, a unique idea on the spot when you have to pitch a new story to your editor. If you jot down an idea every day, that is 365 ideas, and while most might not be so great, if only one percent are, you have hit three home runs.