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[427] Stone’s Fall – Iain Pears

” Scandal has killed as many people as knives and bullets. ” (Part I 17:584)

Stone’s Fall is incredibly complex, so convoluted that it keeps you guessing what the truth is until absolutely the very end. The mysteries of the story are artfully unfolded in an intricate plotline spanning three times period. A great deal is going on in this heft of a book that broaches espionage, international banking and finance, military arms production, and anarchist insurrection. Until the final narrative, all that is going on, which involves a dozen of characters, some of whom are not what they seem to be, is elusive.

Because, squalid little reporter with an eye for a story that I am, I still cannot rid myself of the idea that your husband did not fall. I have heard he had terrible fear of heights. (Part I 10:71)

Stone’s Fall opens in London in 1953 where a retired crime reporter, Matthew Braddock recalls London in 1909 during the time he was hired to investigate the whereabouts of an heir to John Stone, a major player in global finance and weapon production. The more Braddock probes into Stone’s affairs the more confused he becomes. Stone’s widow, Lady Ravenscliff, offers Braddock a fortune too pry into her husband’s personal affairs that might solve the mystery of his death. Was Stone’s death—falling out of the window—accidental or a result of foul play? Why did he leave a stupendous bequest to a child whom, he states in his will, he ever acknowledged? Even after twenty years of marriage, she and John were very much in love and that he had not been in the habit of keeping secrets from her. She needs answer, and craves for the peace of mind. The identity of the heir would appease all her disquiet.

I felt as though I was talking to an actress who was playing several roles at the same time, all from different plays. (Part I 21:170)

Indeed, as in Part II, Henry Cort the spy reveals that Elizabeth , who became Lady Ravenscliff, is not what she appears to be. She is neither from a pedigree of gentility nor a well-educated woman. Through this shadowy figure in Cort one sees how the world is convertible to money, power, and influence. Elizabeth had certainly been caught in the tide and the years had toughened her. War and peace are also decided by the movement of capital—and there is a price for every piece of intelligence. The core of Cort’s narrative is the supercilious British Empire, which vows to preserve its reign of power over the world, and to protect her from sabotage from countries both resentful and envious of its wealth and vastness. Taking advantage of the empire’s obsession Stone exercises manipulation to make a fortune in his arms production. Before her marriage, Elizabeth was a whore-spy, passing on pillow talk for whatever price she could get.

I like making people do things they do not wish to do, I like discovering things I am not meant to know. I think I like taking bad actions and turning them to good ends. It is so often the reverse. But I can take lies and betrayal and turn them into patriotism. (Part II 18:402)

I shook my head and frowned, thinking furiously. A whole host of little details, previously unconnected, seemingly random, seeming to be sticking themselves together into new and troubling patterns. And then, there it was. Undeniable. (Part II 21:415)

While Henry Cort’s narrative stuns me for its prescience and relevance about our current financial crises and exposes the greed of businessmen, it’s John Stone’s story that finally reveals the secret that ultimately, in a very fortuitous manner, leads to his death. Stone’s Fall is very typical of Iain Pears as the many actions move in different directions, dragging readers along peeking through curtains. At one point I almost lose touch of the central mystery, which, to a large extent, hinges on the intricate and arcane details of banking, politics, and espionage, which are not compelling to all readers. But at the end the many subplots and seemingly unconnected pieces all fall into place and drive the book to a poignant and shocking conclusion. It’s a novel of manipulation, secrecy, and love. In the end, it makes me wonder what a man is truly revered for: his achievements or his virtue?

593 pp. 1st U.S. Ed/Hardback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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11 Responses

  1. I’ve been curious about this one for a while but was reluctant to pick it up. The fact that it impressed you so much (when this is not your usual type of read, I think) speaks volumes and I’m really eager to give it a try now! Wonderful insightful review as always, Matt!

    • The size alone makes me pause. It’s been sitting accusingly on my shelf. I decided to begin the new year with this one. Very convoluted, broaching subjects and schemes that are not seemingly connected to the mystery. IT’s a compellingly good read.

  2. I read this based on a very high recommendation from Jackie at Farm Lane Books (actually purchased for me by Trisha at Eclectic Eccentric in the Secret Santa program!). It was extremely complex and involved, and was plenty entertained throughout. But that final twist just takes your breath away. I remember I finished the book on the torturous airplane ride back from Hawaii, and I just kept saying OMG, OMG. Glad you liked it!

    • I acquired this one based on your recommendation. You see how blogger’s opinions influence our readings? I knew Iain Pears is cooking up something because all the bundles didn’t seem to tie up and I was in the last narrative. But when he finally revealed that secret, I totally did not see it coming!

  3. Hmm…interesting thing to ponder at the end. I haven’t read this author yet, but I almost grabbed one of his books from a library sale cart. Guess I missed out!!

    • He’s always done very well-written and crafted mysteries with historical facts. You never know where the stories are heading until literally at the very end.

  4. I really want to read this one. I love surprise endings!

  5. It sounds like one I would really enjoy. Besides, I love any story that may involve defenestration.

    • Oh yeah then I will highly recommend the novel. I have a feeling not everyone would enjoy all the details on banking, finance, arms production, business greed because they almost read like outrageous digressions. But in the end everything makes sense and at the core it’s a poignant love story.

  6. Over the past 12 months, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed every one of Iain Pears’ books, the last being “Stone’s Fall” which I finished just a few weeks ago. I agree competely with your comments and rate it as his best work to date. I can’t wait to read more from this very talented author, but a search of the Internet has not revealed any news of future books. I sincerely hope we have not heard the last of him.

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