"Farthing" Group Discussion

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"Farthing" Group Discussion

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1rojse
Jan. 4, 2009, 8:02pm

Post your thoughts and opinions on the book selected for the third group discussion, Farthing, by Jo Walton.

2geneg
Jan. 4, 2009, 10:56pm

This book reminded me much more of a good, cozy Brit Lit murder mystery a la Agatha Christie much more than an SF read. I'm mystified how this book can possibly be classified as SF. The alternate history hook is almost so weak as to be non-existent. Fascist coups do not SF make.

Now, all that out of the way, just as with most good, cozy Brit Lit murder mysteries I enjoyed this book and just whizzed through it. Bummer of an ending. Oh, BTW, the way it ended doesn't qualify this as SF either, even if it wasn't the ending I wanted. As you can tell, I'm really hung up on how this ever got classified SF.

3LolaWalser
Jan. 5, 2009, 10:57am

I'm not a genre expert by far, but I thought alternative history was long considered a part of science fiction. Time itself being the "science" element. From my meagre experience, there's at least one famous precedent in Dick's The Man in the high castle. Orwell's "1984" is sometimes classified as sf too.

Anyway, to me that angle's unimportant.

So, I finished the book, and very sickening it was (meaning, successful, I suppose). The mystery wasn't much of a mystery, I thought, and some characters seemed to me rather "modern", but the political background was executed brilliantly, and in a way, THAT was the story.

I know only superficially about the influence of fascism in pre-WWII Britain (Mosley, the Mitfords, Lord Haw-Haw...), however, this sounded disconcertingly possible.

I liked the writing. Like Gene, I too was disappointed in my expectation to see the baddies punished, and punished STERNLY.

There were a few pages of the next book in my copy, but it doesn't seem the same characters recur? Are the sequels set in the same era, with the same premise?

4andyl
Jan. 5, 2009, 11:15am

I've read the next one. The detective Carmichael is the same and Britain is slipping further into fascism.

5LolaWalser
Jan. 5, 2009, 12:14pm

Oh, great, and here I thought it was gone quite a way in this one already! Well, I'll look for it, thanks.

6iansales
Jan. 12, 2009, 3:21am

Finally finished The Caryatids, so I've just started Farthing. I'll post my thoughts when I've finished it.

7iansales
Jan. 13, 2009, 8:59am

I'm not very far into Farthing, but so far it's reminding me quite a bit of this.

8richardderus
Bearbeitet: Jan. 13, 2009, 11:26am

I agree with iansales' characterization of this book as (atmospherically, to me) reminiscent of Foyle's War.

I found Farthing deeply disturbing because of its timing. Ms. Walton wrote this in the awful political aftermath of 9/11/01, and the cessation of UK and US civil liberties protections. Her setting was designed to make readers think about the consequences of giving up anything for illusory security and what that giving-up costs those on the wrong side of it.

The second book, Ha'Penny, has Inspector Carmichael interacting with the Farthing Set only at the end and to extremely upsetting purpose, while gaining a personal triumph at the expense of an awful personal tragedy; Half a Crown is the end of the series, with Carmichael dealing fully and finally with the consequences of his personal choices and their effects on the society he has helped create. It's the only one of the three I would describe as possessing even a ray of hope.

Another Fascist Britain book I read and enjoyed was The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeod. I don't adore his books as a rule, but found this tale of a gay man navigating Fascist London and learning the fate of his long-lost WWI lover quite disturbingly moving.

9iansales
Jan. 13, 2009, 2:08pm

The atmosphere also seems more 1920s than late 1940s -- although perhaps Walton is suggesting that 6 years of war saw the end of the aristocracy as it existed between the wars. I think the last debs were presented in the mid to late 1950s, so perhaps it's expecting a bit much for the BEF's defeat to have kept England all "Gosford Park"...

10billiejean
Jan. 13, 2009, 5:08pm

I also thought that this book read like a Brit Lit murder mystery until the end. I haven't read too many of those mysteries in a while, but from what I recollect, they tied things up nicely in the end. This didn't end well from the standpoint of either of the narrations.

I don't really think that this society in Great Britain could have come about. But I guess it is worth pondering.
--BJ

11bobmcconnaughey
Jan. 13, 2009, 6:37pm

i enjoyed Farthing a good deal, but, more than anything, it reminded me of classic British "cozies." I do want to read the followup, but if i buy rather than check it out, it'll be shelved among the police procedurals and mysteries rather than SF/Fantasy. Those tough decisions~!

12iansales
Jan. 14, 2009, 4:06am

Separated at birth: Inspector Carmichael and, er, Ian Carmichael?

13andyl
Jan. 14, 2009, 4:56am

#10

I am not so sure.

Firstly remember that we only really see the aristocrats and their servants. We don't see the middle-class or the common man much at all. It is well known that there was a sizeable amount of sympathy for Nazism from some of the British aristocracy in the 1930s (wary of the Feinians and the growing power of the common man). If they could wrest power without it seeming like a coup (and the manipulation of a climate of fear seems the only way) then most of the services and middle classes would probably acquiesce. The book is far less about the threat from outside by from inside. The manipulation of the populace to give powers to those who would then repress the people.

14iansales
Jan. 14, 2009, 5:53am

That's true enough, but I'm not convinced it was six years of war which made Britain more egalitarian. If that were true, WWI would have had a similar effect. So in that respect, I think Walton has "cheated" - she wanted "Gosford Park", but she also needed a post-Dunkirk world because Hitler had to be ruling the Continent... so she fudged it.

15LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 10:16am

I'm not following, in what sense is the society in "Farthing" egalitarian?

16bobmcconnaughey
Jan. 14, 2009, 10:33am

The police investigators were certainly aware of what back entrances they'd be coming through if a crime hadn't been committed. And that was the case even though it turned out that Carmichael was from a reasonably respectable family. The whole schtick w/ wealthy conservatives trying to keep the US/Britain out of the war was CERTAINLY true in the USA. In the US, Lucky Lindy was one of the leading...isolationists is the nice word. Jews ~ Bolshies/Anarchists~ let the Nazis do our dirty work for us. Not that there's much glory to go around for the rest of the political establishments @ the time in re letting refugees in. And for future disasters there were helpful comments like those of Ben Gurion(?) to the effect that if all the Jewish children could be saved by going to England and only half, but by going to Palestine, he'd pick the half going to Palestine and screw the rest.

17iansales
Jan. 14, 2009, 10:35am

In precisely the opposite sense.

In the real world, after WWII education, health and transport (among others) were opened up to the masses. The aristocracy had been on its last legs for a decade or more anyway. But British society was less class-ridden after WWII than it was before.

But I'm not convinced it was WWII which was chiefly responsible for this. Walton seems to be suggesting it is - she has a 1930s Gosford Park world existing in 1949. Perhaps she's only using the peace brought about by Hess as a bit of handwaving to give her the society she needs for her story. Or perhaps she really is suggesting we'd still have the nobs lording it over us if it hadn't been for pesky old Adolph...

18LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 10:56am

In the real world, after WWII education, health and transport (among others) were opened up to the masses. The aristocracy had been on its last legs for a decade or more anyway. But British society was less class-ridden after WWII than it was before.

I didn't notice this wasn't the case in "Farthing" either, although mostly by omission. Because the scene was one of the top strata of society, and while "society" as a whole may formally open to more democratic ways, these circles may not (in fact, we know that usually they don't, certainly not completely.)

Besides, it's only four years after the war...

But isn't "class" still a neuralgic point in Britain?

we'd still have the nobs lording it over us if it hadn't been for pesky old Adolph...

Well, that's a bit grotesque way of putting it, but clearly post-WWII things couldn't have gone on the same--maybe less because of Hitler, though, than because of the Soviets, and their, at the time, triumphant Revolution. Revolution had ever been a popular idea in Europe, and WWII brought it "home" in a disconcerting manner. Tony Judt has lots of interesting things to say on this in Postwar (touchstone probably messed up).

The police investigators were certainly aware of what back entrances they'd be coming through if a crime hadn't been committed

Yeah. And the lady of the manor disdaining sitting at the same table with policemen. Lots of people with servants observe such "niceties" to this day.

19richardderus
Jan. 14, 2009, 10:58am

Didn't I understand that British class breakdown reallybegan with the Fenian movement, and was accelerated by the great depression of the 1930s? And that it's fairly widely mooted that WWII finished off the job, and in a hurry? It seems to me, having now read all three books, that Walton was positing the Fascist takeover would have slowed, not stopped, the changes. Lucy seems to me to feel slightly...odd...about her Farthing-set life, and not in harmony with its details even though she quite clearly gets the rules.

20iansales
Bearbeitet: Jan. 14, 2009, 11:03am

I didn't notice this wasn't the case in "Farthing" either, although mostly by omission.

There's an explicit mention of the murdered Thirkie sponsoring a bill which would limit Higher Education to pupils from preparatory and boarding schools*. That's certainly the opposite of what really happened.

Besides, it's only four years after the war...

Farthing is set in 1949, seven years after Thirkie brought back "Peace with Honour" from Berlin. By that point in the real world, Britain had been flattened by the Luftwaffe, and had been beggared by 6 years of war and the US's subsequent demands for repayment.

There's a huge social gap between pre-WWII and post-WWII, and I'm not convinced that gap is as much a result of the war as Walton proposes in Farthing.

* So I'd have been all right...

21LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 11:18am

There's a huge social gap between pre-WWII and post-WWII, and I'm not convinced that gap is as much a result of the war as Walton proposes in Farthing.

It seems to me British culture was/is concerned with problems of "class" for the entire 20th century, so I don't know how "huge" a social gap there was between 1940 and 1949, say. (In "real" history.) You can change the laws overnight, but not the custom.

Lucy seems to me to feel slightly...odd...about her Farthing-set life, and not in harmony with its details even though she quite clearly gets the rules.

Lucy was one of the characters that seemed "modern" to me. Although, we learn close to the end of the book that she was raised by a right-thinking servant, not the monstrous mother.

Another thing about Lucy--at first, I was really worried I wouldn't be able to follow the story told in that dimwitted voice, but eventually I grew to like her, against odds. (And, thank god for the interspersed Carmichael chapters.) There was some unexpected humour and intelligence in that scatterbrained mess, but, whew, cutting it very close with the "I'm a silly little doll with large blue eyes" shtick...

22richardderus
Jan. 14, 2009, 11:29am

Lola, I took the "silly little doll" shtick as a defense/survival mechanism of a smart girl in a world that values beauty more than brains. My mother was a Southern Belle for the same reason. She came into her own late in life and wondered aloud that she ever bought into the "he'pless li'l ole me" crap that saw her through three marriages.

23iansales
Bearbeitet: Jan. 14, 2009, 11:32am

...I don't know how "huge" a social gap there was between 1940 and 1949...

Well, of relevance here is the Education Act 1944, which opened education to all classes. There's a clear suggestion in Farthing that this didn't occur.

24LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 11:35am

Don't tell anyone, but I agree that beauty should be valued more than brains.

Mmmmm, beauty. If not for beauty, we'd never mate.

25LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 11:36am

#23

I see, I see. Ah well, as I said, "Farthing" didn't strike me as implausible, but it's all speculative anyway.

26geneg
Jan. 14, 2009, 11:43am

>10 billiejean:, From what I've seen about changes in British law enforcement and fearful kow-towing to Islam it seems to me that authoritarianism, maybe not fascist, but with the same chilling effects over civil liberties, is settling quite nicely over Albion's shores.

27geneg
Jan. 14, 2009, 11:53am

>24 LolaWalser:, I could not disagree with you more about marriage. I've had it both ways and trust me, beauty by itself can be murderously numbing.

Brains trumps beauty anyday.

28LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 12:01pm

Who said anything about marriage?

I was thinking, naturally, about sex.

You know, it's a pity people aren't more like fish.

29richardderus
Jan. 14, 2009, 12:07pm

>28 LolaWalser: Lola, beauty vs brains in the mating game...well, who knows what a fish thinks as it spews its goop into the water that we drink, cook with, and bathe in. I know that beauty gets trumped by beer goggles in the sex-toy-selection race; and like geneg, I think talking is more exciting than looking for the long haul.

But I also wonder if I'd feel that way if I'd ever even made a stab at being "faithful" in the here's the ring and the chastity belt kind of marital set-up.

30iansales
Jan. 14, 2009, 12:37pm

#25 True enough. I just wondered if Walton was actually presenting her world-building as speculation, or had just created the world she needed for the story with a bit of fudging.

#26 We get these little outbreaks of totalitarianism all the time. I remember the fuss over the Criminal Justice Act back in the early 1990s. Also, non-Brits seem horrified over the number of CCTV cameras in the UK - 25% of the world's CCTV cameras are in the UK - but, to tell you the truth, none of us here are all that bothered by it. So there's a CCTV camera on the tram watching you. That means that if some chav decides goes postal, there's plenty of evidence to send him down. Thing is, we Brits can't keep anything going with any degree of rigour for anything more than short periods. We created an Empire by accident and let it go in a fit of absence. The same is true of everything else. We'll do it for a bit, things change, so we leave it in the middle of the road and move on...

31andyl
Jan. 14, 2009, 12:56pm

#30

Actually there are a few people who speak up against the proliferation of CCTV.

There are arguments that CCTV only displaces activity if at all (that pissed-up chav is not likely to change his behaviour). Many of the cameras just don't work well enough to secure any sort of result. I know someone who had their bike nicked in the street in an area supposedly covered by cameras. They were told that the operators could not get a clear picture of who stole the bike.

British bumbling* is a great buffer against authoritarianism. If Britain was as organised and efficient as some other countries then the authoritarian knee-jerks would be more worrying.

* which I consider one of the key traits of the country and a very endearing one at that.

32rojse
Jan. 14, 2009, 7:01pm

In my opinion, Jo Walton could have done far more with the setting that the novel was in than what she did. Jo Walton depicts a government that discriminates against Jews and increases the extent of it's own powers, and some people help Jews escape into more friendly countries. Surely more could have been done in an alternate WWII history than this?

33bobmcconnaughey
Jan. 14, 2009, 7:03pm

in what section of your library would you shelve Farthing?
(SF, Alternate History, Mystery, general fiction, cautionary fables, wherever).

34LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 9:08pm

#32

Well, it is the first book of three in the same setting.

#33

I wouldn't fuss the classification. Depending on what categories are available in a given place, it could go into Fiction, Literature, SF, Alternative history, Mystery...

35bobmcconnaughey
Jan. 14, 2009, 9:45pm

one wouldn't fuss...but it does have to be shelved somewhere that makes sense to you..i'd have it in the mystery shelves as i mentioned above.

36LolaWalser
Jan. 14, 2009, 9:54pm

To me the mystery aspect is the least of it. Alternative history/SF would be my choices.

37iansales
Jan. 15, 2009, 2:19am

I'd have to go with alternate history too.

38iansales
Jan. 15, 2009, 4:06am

I'm finding the murder-mystery aspect of Farthing a bit leaden. No matter what happened in the 1942 of the book, I can't believe everyone is so willing to fit up Kahn or the Bolsheviks when an idiot could plainly see neither are guilty. And Carmichael's torturous working out of every clue - often wrongly - is getting to be annoying. As far as I can tell, much of the charm of the book lies in its alternate world - which doesn't really convince as alternate history.

39bobmcconnaughey
Jan. 15, 2009, 7:42am

but while everyone is willing to fit Kahn, Carhmichael, reluctantly perhaps, doesn't - which puts it in my police procedural subgenre. no matter. Kind of like V for Vendetta packed into a cozy w/ stupider protagonists.

40rojse
Jan. 15, 2009, 7:00pm

#38

Thank you, Ian - someone else besides myself found the obvious scapegoating to be annoying. Mr Kahn spends years as a Jew trying to fit in with a post-war England, and decided to premeditate a murder, mutilate a dead body, and jam a Jewish star on the corpse as his calling card, too? Right.

41Aerrin99
Jan. 15, 2009, 11:21pm

> 38, 40

I just finished the book, and I felt the same. I spent much time musing over who dun it and didn't get far - not because I was on the wrong track, but because I thought 'gosh, to have it be /all/ of them seems a bit much, doesn't it?' Nearly every actual character in the story was either a detective, falsely accused, or implicit in the murder.

While I could buy the coverup, I wish she'd gone to a bit more effort to make it plausible. Perhaps part of the point was that the framing need not be that well-done, so eager was society to blame the Jews and idolize the Farthings - if so, I would have liked to have seen that a bit more. More importantly, I would have liked to have seen more impact and fear when it came to the threats against Carmichael.

I liked the setting well enough - there were certainly parts that made one stop and think - but as others have mentioned, I also thought that it was a bit thin. I would have liked to have had an exploration as to what made /these/ Britons eager to celebrate a peace with Hitler and accept the clear and public murder of Jews on the Continent, and what made them likewise so willing to sheep their way along behind their new Prime Minister. Perhaps this comes in later books but... Frankly, the story wasn't interesting enough to me for me to bother, which is a problem!

I'll admit, I mostly finished this book so that I could get on to the next things in my tbr list. The story and characters just didn't compel me much, alas.

(And I will second or third or fifth the notion that pure alternate history with no other device doesn't really fit into Sci Fi).

42iansales
Bearbeitet: Jan. 16, 2009, 3:52am

Well, finished it. And I found it... disappointing. One of those books whose reputation promises more than the book delivers. The alternate history is an interesting premise, but I'm not convinced by it. A Britain that made peace with Hitler in 1942 is certainly plausible, but not a Britain that still resembles a pre-war aristocrat's paradise. And certainly not a Britain where all classes are as anti-semitic or anti-communist as the fascist aristocracy. It was more like "Gosford Park" transplanted in time to 1949 and in space to Nazi Germany than any kind of feasible alternative Britain. And while it may be wishful thinking on my part, I'd like to think that if the Reich took over the entire Continent and forced Jews to wear identifying stars, the British would deliberately choose to do the opposite and so welcome Jews with open arms. Rather than doing the same as the Nazis. We do, after all, have a long history of enmity with the Continent...

The murder-mystery itself was little better. Carmichael's working out of each clue was slow, annoying and often plainly wrong. Given the two narratives, the reader had a little more information, but despite that it was obvious Kahn wasn't guilty. Okay, so he was a deliberate scapegoat - but it should have been obvious to the characters that he was. They shouldn't have entertained his guilt seriously for a moment. Yet they did. For much of the novel.

Neither was I convinced by the modus operandi for Thirkie's death. It made no sense whatsoever. And the Dowager Lady Thirkie's explanation didn't help. The same is true of the "joke" played by Brown with his .22. What was that meant to achieve? I'm tempted to say it was over-egging the cake, but the whole thing never resembled a cake in the first place. Oh, and then the murder of Timms... There's a story in there - the establishment conspiracy and all that. But Walton skates over it, preferring her cozy County Set murder-mystery. But perhaps that's covered in the other two books...

OTOH, the book's prose was good, as was the characterisation. But overall there wasn't enough there to encourage me to read the other two books in the trilogy.

43iansales
Jan. 16, 2009, 3:55am

I was also interested to learn that public schools in Britain before WWII had Jewish quotas. This might be true of the top few - Eton, Harrow, Marlborough, etc. - but I find it hard to believe every public school in Britain did so.

44GwenH
Jan. 16, 2009, 9:16am

I finally caught up with my other reading and was getting ready to read Farthing. I've decided I don't want to be late to the table again and talking to myself, so I'll skip this round. The English mystery part sounds good to me, the alternate history stuff not so much, based on scanning the posts on the book so far. Maybe some other time...

45geneg
Jan. 16, 2009, 9:31am

>40 rojse:, After observing eight years of the closest thing the US has had to an authoritarian government in my lifetime, one that cares little for human rights and is bound to act legally or illegally as it wills, I can say, based on this experience, authoritarian types are so full of themselves that acting with competence is not a strong suit, nor do they see it as necessary. The clues are there not to fool anyone, but to provide ammunition to their later program of anti-Semitism. Even Carmichael only took a few moments to realize Kahn was being framed. The Farthing Group knew they would take over the country and could spin the events however they wanted. Witness the ending.

46iansales
Jan. 16, 2009, 9:45am

That's still a cop-out. Farthing wasn't far from an idiot plot. Carmichael could have got it all sorted long before enough momentum built behind blaming Kahn for the crime. But he was such an idiot, he missed the boat.

47bobmcconnaughey
Bearbeitet: Jan. 16, 2009, 11:46pm

not knowing GB's schools, but knowing a little of the history of anti-semitism in the ivy league, i wouldn't be all that surprised if there was Jewish quota in the elite British "public" schools. Shortly after WWI, the Ivy League schools, under the leadership of Harvard's Conant were pretty up front about creating a quota for Jewish students. Oddly, from around 1890 till 1920 the Ivy League schools were among the most egalitarian (in a sense) of the major US schools, since they pretty much went by a fairly strict "qualifications" standard. But many of the same racist, self-serving arguments that have been raised against students of Oriental parents in the US during the 1980-2000 (unoriginal workaholic drudges who lacked the "imagination" for true scholarship) were very similar to those used to justify quotas to protect slots reserved for ...the Bushes. I know my mom resented being a "quota Jew" at Cornell to her dying day and my folks never gave money to Cornell, though my dad had been given a free ride via Telluride house. (Well, in truth, my dad might have donated money after my mom died, i don't know one way or another..but not whilst she was alive and she did all her undergrad and grad. work there, during and after wwII.).

48iansales
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:46am

Yes, but that the US and you practiced overt institutional racism there until the 1960s. A quota sounds far too... "systematic" for British public schools.

49LolaWalser
Jan. 17, 2009, 1:49pm

The clues are there not to fool anyone, but to provide ammunition to their later program of anti-Semitism.

I agree with Gene. The point wasn't to frame Kahn "efficiently" at all--the main thing was simply to tag him as "It", start the hunt and set the dogs loose. And, this is actually how it happened in Germany A LOT.

50iansales
Jan. 17, 2009, 2:45pm

Then why did Carmichael take so long to realise this. And why did Royston, who plainly wasn't stupid, not twig?

51andyl
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:51pm

Because they lack the omniscience of the reader. We as readers are much more privileged than Carmichael. Not only that we aren't constantly looking over our shoulders as he was. He struck me as a policeman who had a job to do and would do it slow and steady and in his own fashion and would get to the bottom of things. He is not your detective who is prone to superhuman flashes of brilliance but doggedness. Innocent on the balance of probabilities is not enough he had to convince himself that there was no possible way that Kahn could be guilty. I got the strong impression that was how he had always operated and just because his masters were corrupt, and maybe trying to influence the outcome, it didn't mean he would compromise the way he worked. Of course he ends up compromised anyway. I can't believe that wasn't known before he was given this case (there surely would have been some more corrupt officers who would have just stitched Kahn up like a kipper) so it leaves open the question of just how much his bosses wanted to manoeuvre Carmichael into a position which he would not willing submit to.

52iansales
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:55pm

I still think he missed too much that was obvious. And that he entertained theories that didn't fit any of the facts as he knew them at the time.

53Aerrin99
Jan. 17, 2009, 7:25pm

>52 iansales:

I agree. I think that the flimsiness of the cover-up and frame could have been a really effective way of bringing the alternate history home and saying something about these Britons in this Britain, but it wasn't really developed at all.

None of the characters seem to entertain the notion that maybe they didn't feel the need to do things properly because half-assed was enough for their purposes, or to consider what this meant about Britain and its society. We got /some/ pondering on how Kahn wouldn't get off unless the real killer was found - but not until the last few pages does it even come into play that it might not /matter/ if the real killer was found, that that might not be the /point/.

It could have been done. But I don't think it was.

54bobmcconnaughey
Jan. 18, 2009, 7:10pm

did anyone else think that Farthing owed a good deal to the (comic) V for Vendetta? With Carmichael very much like Eric Finch?vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv V commentary added by cat's paw just now. Wreaks havoc on boggle, too.

55rojse
Jan. 18, 2009, 11:16pm

#42
"the book's prose was good, as was the characterisation"

Won't argue with you there, but if the prose and characters are set around a flimsy premise and background, why would I even bother visiting?

56merry10
Jan. 21, 2009, 5:21am

Late as always to the party! I really enjoyed Farthing. I started mysteries with Dorothy Sayers so quite enjoyed the homage. I have little education in history so found the anti-Semitism depicted in the novel another window into what happened in the Holocaust.

I saw the set-up as pointing out the power of the elite in manipulating information to the masses which is most relevant to the post 9/11 years. I'm happy to see government and the legal system be transparent and accountable.

Thanks for bringing me an interesting choice of reading!

57LolaWalser
Jan. 21, 2009, 4:28pm

if the prose and characters are set around a flimsy premise and background

I don't think there's anything flimsy about the premise, and the background (which, actually, is the embodiment of "the premise") is great. I think one can get misled if one thinks of this as foremost a "mystery"--it's a mystery only in the sense that there's a murder, and we don't know the killer, although we realise (as readers) quickly enough that there's in fact a conspiracy of killers going on. At least, I assumed from the scene when Lucy runs into her mother at that unusual hour, that the mother was the killer (which in a sense she was).

So, yeah, there come the cops, investigating etc. but all the while what we are following--the main thing, to which the murder is just a spark--is the slow unveiling of a Nazi program for Britain, for which implementation one starts--as almost every time in "real" history--with the scapegoating of the Jews.

I don't remember exactly, but I think Carmichael basically "decided" Kahn was innocent as soon as he met him. In fact, I thought that was unrealistically quick of him (but as I said, he struck me as a tad too "modern" a character, in the sense that he was so, so... PC). Royston didn't because Royston is an antisemite--good cop, good friend and father--primed to fall in and march when the homeland goes totalitarian. That was the point, I thought, of the final scene in the book, when Carmichael greets Royston's kid in front of Roystpn's home, but then doesn't enter Royston's house, as he would previously--that relationship has been redefined.

58desultory
Feb. 28, 2009, 12:53pm

Dreadful, I thought. Absolutely bleedin' awful, both as alternative history and whodunnit. (Who cares?) A bad bad writer.

I'll research the next group read a lot more carefully before hurling myself in there.