by IAIN PEARS
Pears story starts at the end, and tracks back in three parts to explain why the characters end as they do. The reader is treated to flowing and detailed descriptions of the players in the mystery/drama, and of the locations – from London, to Paris, to Venice. Most of the action occurs in the time before WW I, an era when anything was possible.
Stone is an industrialist who builds a powerful arms empire, initially based on one new invention. The other, and arguably the main, character is a woman; or is it a series of women. Each of the main players meet by chance but become intertwined in the lives of the others. The final twist at the end is unexpected, but not totally unrealistic given the times.
The Victorian and Edwardian eras are rich grounds for a story-teller and Pears mines it well.
In addition to considering the foundations of the modern espionage departments, how it all began, he very effectively weaves in details of the evolving banking system and stock markets as we know them today.
My only criticism, and it is a very minor one, is that the book is a trifle long. Some of the descriptions could have been detailed. However, many will revel in the language. One word of warning – this is a complex story and it needs to be read without an extended interruption.