RogerBW's Blog

Half a Crown, Jo Walton 23 April 2016

2008 alternate-history suspense/thriller, last in the "Small Change" trilogy. In the fascist Britain of 1960, former Inspector Carmichael still runs the Watch, the secret police charged with rounding up Jews, Communists, and other undesirables; his adopted niece, Elvira, is looking forward to her début.

The pattern of alternating viewpoints by chapter continues as in Farthing and Ha'penny, but Elvira is unfortunately naïve and has less agency than the prior female narrators; her narrative job is primarily to show off the inevitable mechanism of Things Getting Worse, as some of Carmichael's enemies make their move against him through her, and he finds that his political capital isn't as solid as he had hoped.

Where my feeling while reading the prior books was mostly hoping that the worst wouldn't happen, I didn't get the same sense of hope offered and then withdrawn here: it's more that the hope isn't even offered in the first place. This makes it harder for the story to build up momentum, as something unpleasant happens to Elvira and then Carmichael tries to do something about it, but we're not at the end of the book so we know it isn't going to work, at least not completely. With that slow build of nastiness, a last-minute hopeful ending feels like a false note: why that person, why in that way, and why not do the same thing much earlier? Not to mention that it's all rather rushed.

I was also struck by the general incompetence of many people here, with fumbled interrogations, resistance groups that don't segment their organisation anything like as well as they should, and generally a failure to take things whole-heartedly enough to be effective.

The writing is still lovely, and this is a satisfying end to the trilogy – for all that I'd like to read about what happened next. The first book is still the best, but I'd say this comes a close second in quality.

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See also:
Farthing, Jo Walton
Ha'penny, Jo Walton

Previous in series: Ha'penny | Series: Small Change

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