Friday, March 22, 2013

Farthing by Jo Walton

Rounding out the week, another ‘historical,’ but this time with a twist.  I reviewed Jo Walton’s Hugo-winning Among Others previously on this blog.  In  FarthingWalton takes us back to England of 1949. But in this England, the Farthing set, a group of pro-Fascist leaders ousted Churchill and sued for peace with Hitler.  This is a world where the Third Reich never fell, and every major country is dominated by fascists.
But Farthing is not about politics.  Lucy Kahn is the daughter of one of the key figures in the Farthing set, and the wife of a Jew.  She and her husband are invited down to Farthing for a house party – and what’s an English country house party without a murder?  Sure enough, Sir James Thirkie, a leading politician, is found dead with a Star of David pinned to his chest. 
Lucy knows her husband is innocent, but can she prove it?   Scotland Yard sends Inspector Peter Carmichael to investigate, and using alternating points of view of Lucy and Carmichael, Walton unfolds a mystery rooted in political expediency and conspiracy at the highest levels. 
In my opinion, the real strength of this book is the worldbuilding, especially as brought to life through Lucy’s first person narration.  Lucy is not political and not even terribly clever the way many amateur detectives tend to be.  She’s an ordinary, if privileged, Englishwoman of her period, and Walton does a stellar job making her voice authentic.
If you enjoy alternate history, try some of the many books by Harry Turtledove.  Household Gods, which he co-wrote with Judith Tarr, is especially worth a look if you prefer character vs. plot driven fiction. Or if the idea of a fascist England intrigues you, the classic Alan Moore graphic novel V for Vendetta (also available in DVD) explores that same concept, although far less ‘cozily’ than Farthing!

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