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by Jo Walton
TOR books; $14.99; 316pp
Release Date: March 12, 2013
I really liked the last book I read by Jo Walton “Ha’Penny.” Well, I am here to tell you this is even better than “Ha’Penny” and precedes it in time.

This is still the alternate universe where the English made a separate peace with Hitler. Again, there is no firm date for this, but I’m pretty sure it’s after 1945. Hitler is still fighting the war in Europe especially with the Russians. He still has death camps. He is still a monster.

Over in England , life just bloody well goes on, don’t it?

And for the upper class, things are status quo. By hook or by crook---there’ll be tea time out in the garden and dressing for dinner. Be damned to the rest of the country. It’s full of Bolsheviks and Jews and Communists and Unionists anyway.

The novel starts with a weekend party at Farthing, a county house in Hampshire. The “Farthing set” as they have become known were the ones who brokered the peace with Hitler and are considered heroes. (Winston Churchill is an ineffectual and irritating side bar!)

Over a lovely spring weekend, a murder takes place and Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard is sent to untangle the whys and wherefores. ( Carmichael is the connecting link between this and “Ha’Penny” in which he also has to solve a murder).

Dang, this book has so much meat on it! There are two view points: Inspector Carmichael’s and Lucy Eversley’s who wants to leave this story as a warning about how easy it is to become oppressed despite your “freedom.” As one character innocently says on a garden walk; “So much we do casts such long shadows.” Indeed. How slippery and gray and filled with smoke and mirrors situations can get when the folks in power wish to remain in power, without exposing their real hand, by saying their actions are for the good of everyone. That they will cover themselves in layers of sanctity, even sacrifice their friends and tell themselves murder is justified for the greater good. In this specific instance, getting the right man elected as Prime Minister; a man who will crack down on all the undesirables in Britain .

The characters are so well developed, their motivations multi-layered and clever.

In the center of this tale, is the daughter of the house, Lucy. She has recently married David Kahn, a Jew. Her Mummy hates him; her Daddy tolerates him and the rest of the family deal with the situation with that ol’ stiff upper lip.

But we get constant glimpses of the state of affairs: how people will turn on neighbors and friends and denounce them…people they have known for years. How the English sense of justice has been eroded away by more and more curbs on their freedoms. How hatred and racism are not so tacitly supported by everyone. Politically incorrect things may be ignored, unless they are needed for political expediency.

Even Carmichael walks a thin, thin line: he’s gay and his superiors know this and constantly hang this knowledge over his head when they want to keep him in line.

And who is responsible for the murder in this book is maybe not a surprise, but how it is pulled off and why are well done.

Jo Walton is a terrific, subtle writer.

(An addendum: the ending I was not really happy with in “Ha’Penny” turns out to be a way better conclusion than I thought at the time.)

This is an excellent book. Put it on your shelf! ~~ Sue Martin

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