Sunday, 1 January 2012

A year in books 2011 - Stone's Fall - Iain Pears



Although it is now 2012,  this is the last book I finished in 2011.

I'd only read one of Iain Pear's previous novels , The Instance of the Fingerpost took the historical murder mystery to a new place in that over the witness accounts of 4 different characters the mystery of what is truth gradually emerges. It was such a clever device and so well executed I felt that anything that came after would be a bit of a let down.

I relented when I was given a copy of Stone's Fall as a present and I wish I'd done so earlier! The  novel is split into 3 parts. Part one starts in 1909 with industrialist John Stone falling to his death from an open window. His widow hires a reporter to explore a strange clause in the will. As the journalist starts to dig deeper into Stone's empire, he becomes entangled in both industrial espionage and his own growing obsession with his employer , Stone's widow, Elizabeth

Part 2 is told in the form of a letter to the now retired journalist and takes the action back 20 years to Paris when Stone first met Elizabeth. The writer of the letter works in finance but is recruited into the foreign office as a kind of early spy. He learns of a plot to financially ruin London and so begins a frantic diplomatic mission to overt the crisis. In this section we learn more of Elizabeth's background.

For the final part John Stone , who up to this point has remained in the back ground, moves to centre stage. The action this time is set in a hypnotic Venice in the 1860s. At first this feels like the most stand alone of the sections. The links to what is to come aren't obvious although we learn about the seeds of his empire and about Stone direct from himself, rather than the often conflictive impressions of others.

If this was simply a life told at 3 points in time then that would have been enough as the book is so skilfully written. The section on Venice and Paris capture a sense of time when abroad did mean a foreign country.The dull worlds of industry and finance are described in the same way as the world of spies and espionage. The echoes with the current financial woes are obvious but add an extra depth

The ending though is the killer. As I mentioned the 3rd part seems more self contained so when the link back to Stone's eventual death arrives it is a stunning blow purely because it is so neatly and beautifully crafted, so devastatingly simple but far from obvious. It is the kind of ending that leaves you completely satisfied and wanting the start the whole book again

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