RogerBW's Blog

Past Caring, Robert Goddard 14 May 2017

1987 partly-historical mystery. In 1910, Edwin Strafford was Home Secretary under Asquith, and engaged to be married; then, suddenly, his intended refused to speak to him, his political career collapsed, and he ended up as a consular official in Madeira. In 1977, unemployed history teacher Martin Radford is employed by an eccentric South African to find out why, but the past is not as dead as he might have hoped.

This is a book of two narratives, and after establishing Martin as protagonist it rapidly drops into Strafford's memoir, which establishes the story of his life without solving any of the mysteries. However, since the reader knows what eventually happened to Strafford (and both the memoir and Martin's own narrative are packed full of Had I But Known moments), it's hard going to read about his happiness in early life, knowing not only that it would all come apart but that it would not be resolved in his lifetime and he'd die not knowing what had happened. It doesn't help that Strafford's prose, supposedly written in 1951 but dealing with events of the first decade of the century, has exactly the same style as Martin's, and he barely distinguishes between suffragists and suffragettes (admittedly a maggot of mine).

The South African owner of what used to be Strafford's estate has discovered this memoir and become fascinated with Strafford, and employs Martin to try to find out the details. It soon becomes apparent that other people still care deeply about this affair, and will go to some lengths to stop it coming to light.

The problem for me is with the nature of the mystery: it should be a thoroughgoing challenge, whereas in fact the outline of what happened is entirely obvious from the text of the memoir: and we're expected to believe that Strafford himself, perhaps a little naïf but certainly no fool, never considered the possibility? And nor does Martin until it's rubbed in his face? I'll go into a little more detail under rot13.

Vg'f fb hggreyl boivbhf gung fbzrbar unf znqr n qnzntvat pynvz ntnvafg uvz, naq gurersber jub vg vf (ur bayl unf bar rarzl, naq gung'f gur crefba jub raqrq hc zneelvat uvf vagraqrq), naq gurersber sebz gung ebhtuyl jung vg vf, gung ur frrzf gubebhtuyl fghcvq sbe abg guvaxvat bs vg. Fnvq vagraqrq frrzf rira zber fghcvq: sbe zbaguf bs ratntrzrag gurl'ir orra cebzvfvat gb gehfg rnpu bgure va nyy guvatf, naq bar npphfngvba sebz n gbgny fgenatre (nqzvggrqyl, jvgu cynhfvoyr-ybbxvat rivqrapr) vf rabhtu gb oernx gung gehfg sberire gb gur cbvag gung fur jba'g rira fcrnx gb uvz be rira gryy uvz gur angher bs gur npphfngvba? Fb zhpu sbe gur terng ebznapr! Gur jubyr guvat jbhyq unir snyyra ncneg va na vafgnag vs fur'q fvzcyl pbasebagrq uvz jvgu gur pynvz, be vs uvf cbyvgvpny znfgref unq, engure guna serrmvat uvz bhg.

If the story were compelling, I wouldn't mind the slow pace; in fact I often like to wallow in the details of an investigation, or romance, or adventure. As it stands, though, I was not compelled, and so I found it dragging.

In the end this rather reminds me of Spider Light which I read last year: not so much because of the juxtaposition of modern and historical mysteries, but because there is no significant mystery, just endless shaking of the box (183,000 words of it) until the pieces finally settle down in order and things can be resolved. (Don't worry, nobody gets a happy ending.)

See, I was good. I didn't make a joke about the title and my feelings even once.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

See also:
Spider Light, Sarah Rayne

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1