The Crossroads of Time (1956) is the first novel in the Crosstime series. Blake Walker is an entering art student at Havers who is staying in a hotel prior to registering at the school. He is an orphan who was found in an alley by two policemen, one of whom became his foster father. Since both of his foster parents are now dead, he has no known kin.
In this novel, Blake has a premonition that something dangerous is about to occur in his vicinity and, when it peaks, he is drawn to the corridor. After easing the door open, he finds a man holding a gun on another man who is unlocking the room across the way. Blake grabs the gunman's throat and yanks his head back, providing the other man with an opportunity to knock the gunman unconscious. The rescued man introduces himself as Kittson, an FBI agent. Soon, two of Kittson's associates come and take away the gunman. Shortly thereafter, someone identifying himself as a hotel security officer knocks on Blake's door, but Kittson tells Blake to say that he is going to check with the desk and the stranger goes away.
Since someone is obviously curious about the recent events, Kittson takes Blake with him when he leaves. They travel to a loft apartment atop a warehouse, where Blake finds three other men in addition to Mark Kittson. Apparently, these men are doing a great deal of reading, for piles of books, with numerous bookmarks, are all around the living room. One of the men, Jason Saxton, claims that the books are part of his hobby, the study of history, and turns the conversation to the subject of decision points in history causing diverging timelines. Later, Blake is awakened to find Kittson injured and being helped into another bedroom. The next day, that bedroom is locked and then someone or something comes up the elevator to the outside door and sends a mental presence into the room, attacking Blake. Although Blake holds out for a while, he collapses after the attacking presence is scared off by the returning agents.
When the others learn of the intrusion, they prepare to move their operation elsewhere. However, they tell Blake a little more about the crosstime secret and their mission to catch a power-mad renegade. Blake learns just enough to pretend to be totally ignorant of the true mission when he later falls into the hands of the opposition.
While not the first of its type, this novel is an early example of travel between probability universes or alternate timelines, such as in Smith's The Probability Broach. It did precede Piper's Paratime series by a few years but has a similar premise. The author has only written one other novel in this series to date: Quest Crosstime.
This story features psionic powers, but lacks many of the other characteristic plot elements of the author's later works. However, the author does include an ordinary kitten who plays a significant role in defeating the villain. I found the story to be interesting, maybe for nostalgic reasons, but it is not one of her best works.
Recommended for Norton fans and anyone who enjoys SF adventures in strange universes.
-Arthur W. Jordin