STONE’S FALL by Iain Pears (2)

Book Quote:

” ‘Get out,’ she screamed and wheeled round to me, her face ablaze, picking up the blue bowl from the mantelpiece. That bowl, the one she had used to humiliate me, to put me in my place. It served its purpose again, as it crashed into the wall behind me and shattered into a hundred pieces. She was terrifying. I was terrified.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew (MAY 18, 2009)

Iain Pears’¬†Stone’s Fall: A Novel traces back the lives of arms mogul John William Stone and his beautiful wife Elizabeth (aka Lord and Lady Ravenscliff), as well as others around them. The densely detailed novel opens in Paris in March of 1953 as a journalist attends a funeral and is given a package. This man, Matthew Braddock, then launches into his recollections of the momentous events he experienced in London in 1909 when, after the sudden death of John Stone, he was commissioned by Lady Ravenscliff to find a long-lost child who was bequeathed a sum¬†in her husband’s will.¬†Braddock, considerably younger than Elizabeth Stone, becomes quite smitten with her. At the same time, her secretive, strange actions spur suspicion in him. Had her husband’s fall from a high window been an accident or murder?

As Braddock tries to get to the bottom of these murky mysteries, a man named Cort also makes a shadowy entrance. In Part Two, this Henry Cort takes over as narrator from Braddock. Cort tells of his own initial meetings, in Paris in 1890, with John Stone and Elizabeth, the two of whom in turn met and began their courtship. And finally, John Stone himself (also through written record) explains his defining episode as a young man in Venice in the year 1867.

Elizabeth does not get an opportunity to tell her side of things. The reader must rely on the above-mentioned men for insight into who she might be at her core. It would have been fascinating to¬†read¬†her memoirs, but, then again, she¬†probably wouldn’t and couldn’t have given¬†an “accurate”¬†portrait of herself because she lived on many levels and because, as Braddock observed,¬†“She was always a good actor.” [Technically,¬†Braddock ought¬†to have called her an “actress.” The tendency to lose the feminine versions of English words¬†established itself¬†well after 1953.] ¬†Elizabeth is, arguably more so that than her husband, the striking centerpiece of this novel; she is the more flamboyant of the two, the one, often,¬†who draws attention. But they both conceal much from the world at large, and while they may¬†have¬†convinced themselves they¬†knew¬†the other, Elizabeth¬†tells Braddock that they gave¬†each other room to do¬†what they thought they had to separately.¬†Elizabeth and John are a literary couple one will not soon forget. She is far more than an alluring showpiece; she is an elusive and tempestuous force with which to be reckoned. Her life is one with many chapters, most not easily opened once they are closed. As Elizabeth explained it, she loved John because he was the one man she couldn’t control by sheer willpower and feminine wiles. John, a¬†behind-the scenes capitalist¬†of fiduciary genius and vision, for his part, declared, “I love Elizabeth more than anything else in my life….She could have asked anything, and I would have done it. She is my love.” Both husband and wife claim to find no faults in their spouses…a view through rose-colored glasses certainly, but touching.¬†Readers can¬†relish the opportunity to sink luxuriously into their convoluted lives and to soak up the intricately created ambience of the dangerous times (all times are dangerous one way or another) in which¬†they made their marks.

Stone’s Fall recounts tales of financial wizardry and shell games; espionage among the restive and trustless European nation states forging industrial/military strongholds; and the vagaries of human love, lust and resulting violence. It is a novel that sometimes obscures its human beings with prodigious financial, legal, and other¬†particulars¬†that can even bore the characters. For instance, some readers may become a bit mind-numbed by the the nuts and bolts of financing a huge under-the-table undertaking. However, Pears’ fictional, deftly-layered reverse history will draw in and captivate anyone with the time and patience to take in the entire book (just as the author’s earlier bestseller,¬†An Instant of the¬†Fingerprint did so compellingly). Some may be tempted to stop after Part One which could, truth be told, stand as a complete novel. But persevere. The rest of¬†Stone’s Fall immeasurably enriches the total picture, and Henry himself is revealed stunningly in the final section. Pears brilliantly supplies the¬†coup de grace in the last few pages, so don’t, if you want to maintain the implicate suspense, read the conclusion before its time.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 117 readers
PUBLISHER: Spiegel & Grau (May 5, 2009)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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May 18, 2009 ¬∑ Judi Clark ¬∑ No Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  ¬∑ Posted in: Facing History, France, Mystery/Suspense, Thriller/Spy/Caper, United Kingdom

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