Friday, October 1, 2010

Farthing by Jo Walton

I saw some books by Jo Walton at the library one day, and thought to myself, "I haven't read anything by Walton in a while, perhaps I should check one of these out (literally and figuratively)." When I got home later on, I realized that I have nothing by Walton in my personal collection and so I've probably never read anything by Walton in the first place. An author I thought was an old one becomes new, Voila!

An alternate history mystery, how cool is that? A murder has been committed at the home of Lord Eversley, possibly by anarchists, bolsheviks, or Jews. In Walton's story, the historic twist that creates the background is that England decided on a course of appeasement rather than opposition to Hitler during WWII (which I suppose wouldn't have been a World War after all) and therefor were left alone by him while he conquered the rest of The Continent, although he's still trying to invade Russia as the novel unfolds.

Walton's tale is told from two points of view, a first person narrative by Lucy Kahn (nee Eversley), which is so bubbly as to nearly be stream of consciousness - oddly opposed to her actual habit of keeping her mouth firmly shut unless she has something of import to say - and a third person mode focusing on Inspector Carmichael, who, with his sidekick Seargent Royston, is investigating the murder of Sir James Thirkie at the Eversley manor.

Whoever murdered Sir James was either an idiot, crazy, or leaving a false trail of evidence to implicate "The Jews". Anti-semitism is alive and well in England, though it hasn't approached the level of persecution that Hitler's rule enforces, and most of the clues seem to point to Lucy's husband, David, a Jewish investment banker. We get to see the progress of the investigation through the eyes of Lucy, as she watches and listens to her high society friends and family (she's an outsider to much of this since her marriage to a Jew) and their reactions to Thirkie's death, and through the methodical prodding and steady analysis of Carmichael.

The turns of phrase in Walton's work are really delightful. A couple of examples:

"I keep him from being hurt, or to enclose him behind castle walls where nobody could reach him. Instead I had brought him here where he had to sit down and eat salmon in hollandaise sauce among his enemies."

"David said, very reasonably, 'I know you attribute supernatural powers to your mother sometimes, but seriously, how could she have? Unless she did it herself- and I have difficulty imagining her stabbing a friend.'
'That's because you haven't known Mummy very long. Besides, Sir James was an ally, not a friend. But you're right - her usual style is stabbing them in the back.'"

I was involved in a short discussion about reviewing books with a fellow blogger, and the subject of whether a positive review can turn negative if the review doesn't like the ending came up. I absolutely hated the way this book ends, and so you'd think this spoiled the book for me. However, it wasn't a badly written ending, and the ending followed quite naturally and logically from the rest of the story, so I have to still give the book good marks, over all. I'll even read the sequel.

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