In 1941 the European war ended in the Farthing Peace, a rapprochement between Britain and Nazi Germany. The balls and banquets of Britain's upper class never faltered, while British ships ferried undesirables across the Channel to board the cattle cars headed east.
Peter Carmichael is commander of the Watch, Britain's distinctly British secret police. It's his job to warn the Prime Minister of treason, to arrest plotters, and to discover Jews. The midnight knock of a Watchman is the most dreaded sound in the realm.
Now, in 1960, a global peace conference is convening in London, where Britain, Germany, and Japan will oversee the final partition of the world. Hitler is once again on British soil. So is the long exiled Duke of Windsor and the rising gangs of British Power streetfighters, who consider the Government soft and may be the former king's bid to stage a coup d’état. Amidst all this, two of the most unlikely persons in the realm will join forces to oppose the fascists: a debutante whose greatest worry until now has been where to find the right string of pearls, and the Watch Commander himself.
What if: listen to more in the Small Change trilogy.
©2008 Jo Walton (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
This is the third volume in Jo Walton's Small Change series and presents us with the world shaped by Britain making peace with Germany in 1940 and all of the subsequent changes from the world we know now. All of the three volumes are placed in the UK and there is almost no mention of the world outside of the UK except for occasional references to Hitler's Europe, the Japanese and the US which, since it was never involved in a world-wide conflict, is not a major power. As with the previous volumes this story is presented through two voices, one is Peter Carmichael, now the head of The Watch, which is the British version of The Gestapo, and the other his "niece" who is actually his ward and the daughter of a police sergeant who was killed on duty years earlier.
The tone of this book, as with the previous books in this series, is one of increasing dread as the story progresses. Step by step we feel the threads of danger constantly creeping up and ensnaring the characters until it becomes clear that terrible things are going to happen and, as with the previous books, the background evil of the existing fascist British government is presented in such a matter-of-fact and banal manner that it is much worse than if it were dwelled upon. The book is superb in the way it presents the world to us and draws us in to the transpiring events and, in doing so, mimics the first two books which had exactly the same quality. In fact I put off reading this book for many months, not because I did not want to read it, but because I did not want to finish the series too quickly.
The one odd thing about the book is the vacuousness of the lead female character, Elvira Royston. She is a young debutante about to be presented to The Queen at her “coming out” and her head is filled with the trivia of of innocent youth. She is terribly naive and does not does seem to have had a single political thought in her head and consequently does truly stupid things, given the world around her, and consequently is the source of the danger that grows around Peter Carmichael. As with the Viola Larkin character in the second volume of this series, it is very hard to be sympathetic to the female characters since both seems to be so shallow. You know, as you read, that Elvira is going to get all of those around her in serious danger and I found it hard to believe that anyone, even that young, could be so complacent, ignorant and empty-headed.
It is easy to say that the head of the British Gestapo could not possibly be a sympathetic character but Peter Carmichael is exactly that - a good man put into an impossible position trying against all of the odds to do the right thing.
I presume this is the last volume in the series, however the ending provided enough of an opening for the author to write one or two more volumes about the world created by the events at the end of the book. While I was a bit disappointed by the pat ending I would almost certainly buy any books by the author which followed the story beyond that ending. The world created by the book, and the writing, just make it very difficult to not want to read more.
I gave the first two books in this series a hearty 5 star rating, but felt that this volume only deserved 4 stars due to the way the story ended. Both of the previous volumes ended in realistic and believable ways, but this book ends in a way hard to credit and consequently hard to believe. Not in a “bad” way, but in a way that was just a bit too pat and easy. The narration, as with the previous volumes, was first class and I would like to have been able to give this book 4 1/2 stars but, since there is no such rating, 4 will have to do. While a bit disappointing on its own, it is well worth reading if someone has already read the wonderful first two volumes.
The plot was so engaging I couldn't stop listening. This is very hard to put down and though I usually work while listening to audiobooks, this one had me glued in place, fully attentive to the story. It took a lot of discipline to keep from forwarding to the end just to relieve the tension of not knowing what would happen to the characters, but I'm so glad I let the story unfold. The end is satisfying.
Carmichael- the struggles he goes through are genuine and believable.
Carmichael in his cell watching the Queen's address on TV.
The treatment of the Jews was very real and the telling of this tale may help people, who (like Elvira and other characters in the book) need to increase their empathy and tolerance. I wish they hadn't killed Jack.
I enjoyed watching Elvira's personality develop as she found her courage.
I often joke that I stay away from books labeled "gripping" and "chilling". But after the first 2 installments of this series, I had to immediately listen to this one. At first I was disappointed that the action moves forward about 10 years, but Carmichael is back along with his adopted niece, now grown up. It really shows "the banality of evil", as persecution of Jews and other "terrorists" is just a common part of English life along with endless cups of tea and the presentation of young debutantes to the queen.
It's a very powerful series and John Keating does a great job relating Carmichael's story, as a stoic and professional man who has unseen emotional depths. Some parts were quite terrifying and If I had been reading this in print, I think I would have been compelled to peek ahead to reassure myself, but with audio, you have to stay on for the whole ride. I'm glad I did!
It's easy to see how similar kinds of oppression and manipulation of public opinion could happen today in the U.S. - or already are happening.
I'm impressed that Jo Walton can write well in so many different genres.
Although the pacing in this last entry in the Small Change series was a little uneven, the last few chapters were positively thrilling, and I'm glad I listened all the way to the end. I would love to read a novella about some of these characters another 15 years on.
Mystery reader (especially series) and Austen lover
Half A Crown is the final book in the Small Change trilogy by Jo Walton. Although Walton is classified as a science fiction writer, this book is an excellent choice for mystery fans (like me), suspense fans, and World War II buffs. Half A Crown shows the England described in the first two books of the trilogy, ruled by a power elite which in 1941 ousted Churchill, signed a treaty with Hitler, and practised a weaker version of the suppression of Jews, Gays, and other undesirables. But now it is 1960 -- the power elite are still in power and taking the country closer and closer to Nazism, and the suppression grows worse and worse. New picture identification cards are prepared which list one's religion, Jews are paraded through the streets to be screamed at and have things thrown at them, and most Jews and gays are rounded up and sent off to Hitler's "work camps" on mainland Europe.
Inspector Carmichael has now been the commander of the Watch (equivalent to the Gestapo) for 11 years, forced to do the job and take the credit for the oppression of the Jews by the Prime Minister's threats to expose him as gay. During those years, he has also secretly built up a cadre of officers who siphon off a small percentage of the Jews and help them escape the country. English Quakers are also helping undesirables escape.
Walton does a wonderful job of creating a society of fear, where few dare to protest, and where people simply disappear after being picked up by Scotland Yard or The Watch. The tension and suspense wind tighter and tighter as the book progresses. Then, at the 11th hour, an improbable plot device brings things to a conclusion. It is because of this device which I find highly improbable that I give the story 4 stars rather than 5. Otherwise, it is a fantastic story, well written and beautifully narrated by John Keating, who is a wonderful Carmichael, and Terry Donnelly, exquisite as an 18-year-old who has always accepted things the way they were and believed the propoganda, but suddenly is faced with the truth.
I highly recommend the entire trilogy.
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