Thursday, March 10, 2011

KB Weighs In On Ian Pears

At his London home, John Stone falls out of a window to his death. A financier and arms dealer, Stone was a man so wealthy that he was able to manipulate markets, industries, and indeed entire countries and continents. Did he jump, was he pushed, or was it merely a tragic accident? His alluring and enigmatic widow hires a young crime reporter to investigate. The story moves backward in time—from London in 1909 to Paris in 1890 and finally to Venice in 1867—and the attempts to uncover the truth play out against the backdrop of the evolution of high-stakes international finance, Europe’s first great age of espionage, and the start of the twentieth century’s arms race. Stone’s Fall is a tale of love and frailty, as much as it is of high finance and skulduggery. The mixture, then, as now, is an often fatal combination.

KB says:
"Having read one book by a mystery writer, our mystery book group tends to not repeat that author again. But we recently made an exception for Iain Pear's book Stone's Fall, newly out in paperback.

The first book we tackled by Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost, is set in the time of Cromwellian England--a tumultuous time of power struggles and executions. Four different narrators take turns relating the story, which adds an extra dimension to the storytelling, as the reader does always know whether the information imparted can be trusted or complete. Although close to 700 pages, it's an historical mystery that's well worth the effort invested in it.

We decided to go with Stone's Fall in part due to our delight with his earlier book, and then also since it had conveniently just become available in paperback. Also, someone in the group had read it and gave us a tantalizing synopsis of the book.

Stone (Lord Ravenscliff) has inexplicably fallen to his death from an open window, but why has this defenestration occurred at all? Did he simply fall out? Was he pushed? And why would Stone, of his own volition, even have this long and potentially dangerous window open at all? He had a known fear of heights. His much younger wife, Lady Elizabeth Ravenscliff, seems to be a crucial part of this puzzle, but how might she have contributed to his demise? Her maiden name itself seems to beckon for someone to unravel her obscure background: Elizabeth Hadik Barkozy von Futak uns Szala. Apparently she's an Hungarian countess.

To reveal the story behind the death of Lord Ravenscliff, the narrative shifts backwards in time twice, and again the device of multiple narrators offers the reader a particular viewpoint of unfolding events. The action shifts from London in 1909, to Paris in 1890, then finally to Venice in 1867. with the earliest back story in Venice related by John Stone himself. Matthew Braddock narrates the first portion of the story in London, as he investigates Stone's recent activities and associates and seeks Stone's alleged secret child. Henry Cort tells of his early association with Elizabeth before she marries Ravenscliff, and his involvement, as a spy, in a financial plot to undermine the Bank of England.

Pre-WWI Europe focused heavily on international rivalries and conflicts, and money and effort poured in military activities and armaments. Stone's interests lie in both warship manufacturing and financial schemes. This reader found the discussion of investment activities and manufacturing to be a bit boring, and the reading bogged down here, but continued reading proved to be richly rewarded, with the introduction of some complex and engaging characters. The narrator Henry Court provided to be especially engaging.

One might also note that the financial shenanigans related in this turn-of-the-century novel appear not unlike the very recent manipulations and 'creative' financial schemes witnessed in the last three to four years.

This novel offers rich historical fiction with fully-formed characters and a narrative thread of sufficent complexity and interest to keep one turning nearly 600 pages to a satisfying and surprising ending."

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