Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Farthing, by Jo Walton

A British manor mystery with a veneer of alt-history.


Tor books, 2006, 319 pages

One summer weekend in 1949 - but not our 1949 - the well-connected "Farthing set", a group of upper-crust English families, enjoy a country retreat. Lucy is a minor daughter in one of those families; her parents were both leading figures in the group that overthrew Churchill and negotiated peace with Herr Hitler eight years before. Despite her parents' evident disapproval, Lucy is married - happily - to a London Jew. It was therefore quite a surprise to Lucy when she and her husband, David, found themselves invited to the retreat. It's even more startling when, on the retreat's first night, a major politician of the Farthing set is found gruesomely murdered, with abundant signs that the killing was ritualistic.

It quickly becomes clear to Lucy that she and David were brought to the retreat in order to pin the murder on him. Major political machinations are at stake, including an initiative in Parliament, supported by the Farthing set, to limit the right to vote to university graduates. But whoever's behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn't reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts and looking beyond the obvious. As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out - a way fraught with peril in a darkening world.

The year is 1949. A few years earlier, Britain negotiated a "peace with honor" with the Axis, ending the war and resulting in a continental Europe controlled by the Nazis. In England, everyone breathed a sigh of relief after the bombing stopped and life went back to normal. Except for the Jews.

That alternate history is really the only "science fiction" element of this book. Farthing is really half thriller, half murder mystery.

Lucy Kahn is the rebellious daughter of an important family in the "Farthing Set" that negotiated the peace with Hitler. Much to her parents' dismay, she married a Jew. They barely tolerate her husband, but invite the two of them to a weekend in the country. There, the very man responsible for negotiating the end of the war is found dead, stabbed through the heart with a yellow star, like the kind they make Jews wear in Europe, pinned to his chest.

Obviously, it's a set-up, and fortunately for Lucy and her husband, David, the Scotland Yard inspector who is sent to investigate smells the set-up and is reluctant to go along with it, even though very powerful forces are obviously pressuring him to arrest the Jew and call it a day.

The mystery is fairly obvious, but the thriller aspects take center stage as we learn the reasons for the murder. The author makes her points rather heavy-handedly at times, and as the book ends (obviously to be continued in a second volume), England is sliding into fascism just like Germany.

I'm slightly curious to see where the author intends to go with this - will we see England eventually throwing off the new fascism and turning history back on its proper course? It seems rather unlikely with the world the way it is. I was also bemused by every other character being gay or bi and having a same-sex lover in the closet.

Farthing was an okay read, but it's more English manor mystery than alternate World War II thriller, and Jo Walton uses an anvil in a book that really doesn't need heavy-handedness, since you've got Nazis as villains. 6/10.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, reviews, science fiction

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened