In 1949, eight years after the "Peace with Honor" was negotiated between Great Britain and Nazi Germany by the Farthing Set, England has completed its slide into fascist dicatorship. Then a bomb explodes in a London suburb. The brilliant but politically compromised Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard is assigned the case. What he finds leads him to a conspiracy of peers and communists, of staunch king-and-country patriots and hardened IRA gunmen, to murder Britain's prime minister and his new ally, Adolf Hitler.
Against a background of increasing domestic espionage and the suppression of Jews and homosexuals, an ad-hoc band of idealists and conservatives blackmail the one person they need to complete their plot, an actress who lives for her art and holds the key to the fuhrer's death. From the ha'penny seats in the theatre to the ha'pennies that cover dead men's eyes, the conspiracy and the investigation swirl around one another, spinning beyond anyone's control.
In this brilliant companion to Farthing, Welsh-born World Fantasy Award-winner Jo Walton continues her alternate history of an England that could have been with a novel that is both an homage of the classic detective novels of the 30s and 40s and an allegory of the world we live in today.
©2007 Jo Walton (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"World Fantasy Award-winner Walton masterfully illustrates how fear can overwhelm common sense, while leaving hope for a resurgence of popular bravery and an end to dictatorial rule." (Publishers Weekly)
Mystery reader (especially series) and Austen lover
Jo Walton's Small Change Trilogy is an absorbing drama which started with a mystery in Book 1, and carries on with a thriller in Ha'Penny, Book 2. In this alternate history, it is 1948/9 in London, Britain has been "at peace" since 1941 when the Farthing Set negotiated a peace with Hitler which involved Hitler staying across the Channel and Britain imposing some suppression on "undesirables," meaning Jews, gays and dissidents. By 1948, Hitler is the leader of continental Europe, the war between Germany and Russia continues, and Lindhberg is President of the USA. As a result of the events which take place in Farthing, Book 1, the power elite now control through the Prime Minister, and are gradually taking the country more and more toward Facism.
The only really continuing character in the trilogy is Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard, who has been coerced into doing the bidding of the authorities, even when it is against the law and his principles, in order to avoid their publicising the fact that he is gay, thereby ruining his career and possibly putting him in jail. The action in Ha'Penny involves a conspiracy to kill Hitler and the Prime Minister at a performance of Hamlet in London during a state visit of Hitler. The other main character is Viola Lark, who is starring in Hamlet, and is one of a group of six sisters, all named after Shakespeare characters. Among the sisters is a Communist (Cressida, known as Siddie), a Nazi married to Himmler (Celia, known as Pip), and Viola the actress -- very reminiscent of the Mitford sisters. Viola, who is not political, ends up being forced to participate in the plot to kill Hitler with a bomb in the theatre.
The story builds up a great deal of tension and is very engrossing. Jo Walton manages to make her alternate world very believable and horrifying, and the picture she draws of an England where "undesirables" are shipped off to the continent to the concentration camps is chilling.
As with Book 1, this book is narrated by two people, which works very nicely because the book is written with alternate chapters told from the viewpoint of Viola and Carmichael. John Keating is again excellent as Carmichael, and Heather O'Neill is outstanding as Viola.
I highly recommend this Trilogy.
Jo Walton has given us a brilliantly thought out alternative to the existing post World War II world that we know. England has replaced Churchill with an appeasement minded Prime Minister, has struck a deal with Hitler, the war in western Europe has ended and 8 years later Hitler is still fighting in Russia. England, like all independent powers on the periphery of the Third Reich, has slid into a milder form of fascism and is trying to accommodate itself to the new reality. It is both horrifying and easily believable.
This volume, the second in the series, involves the police, under an independently minded, but politically compromised, inspector trying to determine what was behind the explosion of a bomb in a London area residence. This book, like the first, tackles the story through the eyes of two separate individuals whose fate are eventually intertwined. In this case we have the story through Inspector Carmichael’s eyes and those of the lead actress in a new version of Hamlet that is to be staged. How the two tales come together and how the mystery is solved constitutes this book.
As with the first book in this series the characters seem real, the story progresses logically and nothing that takes place seems unreasonable. The chain of evidence from the bomb to the plot that drives the book is forged one link at a time and it is all so real that this could have been a history rather than a novel. All of the participants are inevitably drawn into their actions by small incremental choices and nothing seems like an unreasonable stretch. The reader is left with both the horror of the created world and the feeling that, without someone like Churchill, all of this could have happened. I was drained at the end of the book by the horror of a world that could easily have been and by the fates of those involved in this book and I needed to keep telling myself that this was a novel and not real.
I did not review the first book in this series because I was also left horrified by the world presented by the story and did not know how to properly explain how both wonderful the book was and how horrible the created world felt but, with the second book, I felt I needed to put something down on paper. Both of these books are simply wonderful, splendidly narrated and will leave you disquieted and uneasy. They certainly did leave me that way. I will buy and read the third volume but I must give myself some time first.
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