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.
What if: listen to more in the Small Change trilogy.
©2006 Jo Walton (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"If Le Carré scares you, try Jo Walton. Of course her brilliant story of a democracy selling itself out to fascism sixty years ago is just a mystery, just a thriller, just a fantasy--of course we know nothing like that could happen now. Don't we?" (Ursula K. Le Guin)
"Walton crosses genres without missing a beat with this stunningly powerful alternative history…. while the whodunit plot is compelling, it's the convincing portrait of a country's incremental slide into fascism that makes this novel a standout. Mainstream readers should be enthralled as well." (Publishers Weekly)
It's astounding to me that Jo Walton can write fantasy (Among Others), faux Victoriana (Tooth and Claw), and then turn around and write a country house murder/political thriller with the added twist of being set in an alternate Britain that made peace with Hitler. The ordinariness of the beginning adds to the scariness of creeping totalitarianism. And although the setting is the 1940's, the debate about restricting liberties to protect the country from terrorism is very relevant. Both narrators were very good, which I can't always say. I immediately started listening to the sequel.
Farthing seems at first to be a comfortable English country house mystery. It quickly becomes unusually candid about toxic relationships, however. Our heroine, Lucy, heiress to all the money of a very large and historic English estate, hates her mother, and it becomes apparent that she is right to do so. She also has married a Jew, and this in an England twisted out of the shape it has in our world by an early peace settlement in 1941. The war did not last five years and Hitler was not defeated. Instead, the Rudolf Hess flight to Scotland in May 1941, widely believed by many to this day, including me, to have been a separate peace offer from Hitler (it is, after all, what Hess claimed at the time!) was in that alternative reality taken up by a clique called the "Farthing set" which out-maneuvered Winston Churchill, who intended to fight on and would have squelched the initiative and jailed Hess as a madman as in our reality. The best alternative histories have that one tiny change that is plausible: England ended the war early, in 1941, with the Farthing slogan "Peace With Honor" after a short negotiation with Hitler. The resonances with the earlier real-time appeasement by Chamberlain in Munich are obvious, and add to the plausibility.
The war continues in Russia for many years and Jews are persecuted all over central and eastern Europe, and are losing ground in England, which had a substantial Fascist constituency before WWII and does again, since that was never defeated. An apparent murder at Farthing by Jews and a terrorist attack on Farthing by Bolsheviks puts Lucy's husband David right in the crosshairs, where he is intended to be. Can they escape? The chapters alternate between Lucy's narration and that of Inspector Carmichael, and so the producers have used two readers, a woman and a man. The woman reader uses the sad, falling-voice technique that I felt was a problem in the reading of Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," too. After all, much of the life of Thomas Cromwell went very well. And Lucy Kahn is a more resolute than sad heroine. The male reader is excellent and the female one is quite good except for that one habit. This novel is sexually complex, but there is no explicit sexual description whatsoever; it's mainly characterization. I think this novel would be very suitable for late teens and any age after that.
Lucy Eversley married David Kahn partly as adolescent rebellion at the stultified, restricted life she leads in the ultra-upper-class: even she realizes there is a component of rebellion. However, it's a real marriage: they fill out each other's lacks and they are extremely supportive of each other. She wants children and believes she is pregnant and is very happy about that. Therefore, the reader is both aghast and amused at the surprise she gets in the end: Lucy is definitely going to be paying her dues now and having an interesting life.
I recommend Farthing strongly and plan to listen to the other two "Small Change" novels in the series.
"Farthing" starts like a tea cozy. As it continues, World political influences come into play as Hitler, fear of Jews and Bolsheviks play out on the British upper class potentates. As it ends, Farthing becomes a commentary on all of us, on morality, on the tradeoffs we make- while still retaining the book's character as a period mystery. It is so much more. And so beautifully transitioned
The storyline is what caught my attention, but listening to Keating and Amato for me brought this fascinating twist on history to life. I found myself caring about these characters thanks to the story itself, but also to the voices and wonderful flow of the narrators.
To be honest, I picked this book because it was the 'Dailey Deal'... I truly lucked out, because the story and narrators had me in only a matter of minutes. I will now seek out material by both the writer and narrators.
I tend to hand myself over to both writers and directors, completely willing to suspend disbelief and enter into the story. So it is possible for me to feel betrayed by a book if the writer is good enough and the characters engaging enough. I felt betrayed by this one, but it is difficult to write about why without creating spoilers for those who want to give it a try. I will say, both Mr. Keating and Ms. Amato are quite good and Ms. Walton is a compelling enough story teller to have drawn me in far enough to have had such a strong reaction by the end of the book, so perhaps you will like it.
In order to not provide spoilers, let me just say, I like some alternative histories, but this one is subtle and disturbing; I love cozy mysteries, but this one wasn't cozy after all; and I enjoy many detective series, but will not be reading the other two books in this trilogy. It is possible that what I dislike the most about the book could be resolved in the next two, but as of now, I am unwilling to try them. Maybe in time... who knows.
I have to say that this book dragged horribly until well over half way through. The premise was interesting enough. But at least to this American too many subtleties of class were given too many words. The book picked up and the end was both satisfying and depressing all at once. I don’t usually like depressing books, but this one made its point.
was a little slow getting started, but caught my attention last half of book. the authors use of little English phrases scattered throughout were charming and helped maintain the mood of story. all in all, a completely realistic plot and storyline.
John Keating's narration was the only downside to this book. Dry to the point of being awkward and uncomfortable. Weird pauses that pulled me out of the narrative multiple times during each of his chapters. Bianca Amato was great and I wish she had done the entire book.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.