Pears, Iain - 'Stone's Fall'
This is historical fiction par excellence. This superb story starts in London in 1909 when a young journalist Matthew Braddock, who specialises in crime stories is asked to meet the widow of Lord Ravenscliff, a very important and vastly, wealthy industrialist who had died in very unusual circumstances. It appears that the deceased slipped over a carpet and fell through an open window but the death was treated as a terrible accident. He left his considerable fortune to his widow but in the will is a mention of a bequest of £250,000 to his child whom he has never previously acknowledged. Lady Ravenscliff explains that although they were married over 20 years there were no children of their union. Braddock mentally notes that the deceased was around 70, when he died whereas Lady Ravenscliff is around 40. Lady Ravenscliff's instruction to Braddock is that he is to be paid three times his current annual salary and be supplied with all expenses and however long he took, this arrangement would continue for seven years. Braddock is pleased to accept the generous commission knowing that his editor recommended him for the job.
Braddock starts a very detailed and exacting investigation of all the known circumstances of the death and using his reporter skills and contacts he checks out all the people that knew the Ravenscliffs. To provide a cover for his investigation Lady Ravenscliff has suggested that he should consider that he has been commissioned to write a biography of the deceased. The deceased before he was ennobled was known as "John Stone" which explains the title of this book "Stone's Fall". Braddock has to report frequently to her Ladyship to obtain more background information as his research develops and also to keep her up to date with his progress. The research soon becomes very complex. The story starts to move back in time from London 1909 to Paris in 1890 and finally Venice in 1867 and the narrator's identity changes. I found I could not put it down until the last page was read.
This gripping and very erudite story comes from a very gifted author of eleven previous books. It is written in three separate parts, the first one introduces the characters and the information is a little vague and piecemeal. The second section we learn much more about John Stone, and in the final section we have resolution from the main character himself. This book is long at 608 small font pages but there is no feeling of long-windedness as the hook the author uses, kept this reader transfixed all the way through. The sense of period detail is beautifully evocative and the author's research around the history of Barings Bank in the sections concerning the plot to bring about the collapse of the British banking system was absolutely fascinating. John Stone made his money from munitions, and the details of the development of torpedoes I found similarly very engrossing.
This book reminded me in it's style of works by Robert Goddard but I believe Pears is a far superior writer. I enjoyed this book very much as in parts it also reminded me of The History Of Mr Polly by HG Wells and when I finished it I wanted to start it all over again I was so impressed by it. I would definitely consider putting it on my list of best reads of 2010.
Terry Halligan, England
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