My latest review from Boldtype.
Stone’s Fall: A Novel
by Iain Pears
Published: May 2009
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
For a novel that seeks to explain the circumstances of John Stone’s death, Stone’s Fall spends a lot of time exploring the details of the man’s life. The story unfolds in three parts, each narrated by a different character, each set in a different city. That set-up seems straightforward enough, but the narrative grows in complexity as it moves from London in 1909, to Paris in 1890, to Venice in 1867. Details that seem innocent upon first introduction become vitally important later. Minor characters in the early sections step into the spotlight later.
John Stone is a Gilded Age industrialist, who first made his fortune selling self-propelled torpedoes and dreadnoughts. When he dies suddenly, his widow — Elizabeth — hires a young journalist named Matthew Braddock to find a child who may or may not exist. Unraveling that mystery requires Braddock to dig deeply into Stone’s business affairs. The more Braddock learns, the less he understands. Was Stone’s corporation in deep fiscal trouble? Why is Elizabeth connected to an assassination-minded band of anarchists? And who is Henry Cort — the man who ordered London’s papers to withhold details of Stone’s death?
Cort, in fact, is the man who picks up the narrative in Paris. As a young spy, he stumbles upon an international conspiracy to sabotage London finance (which eerily reflects our own banking crisis). Cort needs help from Stone and Elizabeth to end the threat, and offers the reader important details about the background of both. The final section is voiced by John Stone himself, dispatching each lingering question with the same efficiency he brings to the arms business. Some answers are easier to predict than others, but the ending is unexpected and well worth the wait.
Stone’s Fall is an intricate, layered puzzle, and from an author like Iain Pears, we expect nothing less. But this is also a novel about ideas, which finds beauty in the rhythms of commerce and politics. At 600 pages, it demands some dedication, but offers plenty of rewards for the effort.