I am unhappy to report that the strongest element about this book is the cover art. It hearkens back to the wonderful Great Western Rail (and other) posters of the 1920s and 30s in England -- the Golden Age of Travel. The contents, I'm afraid, do not.
The story is set in 1920, just as England sputters into a recovery after the First World War. The main protagonist, Laurence Bartram survived his days in France but returns to an empty home. His wife and son died while he was away. With little to anchor him, he receives a letter from the sister of an old friend. She asks him to help discover the cause of her brother's sudden suicide -- or perhaps uncover something more sinister.
|Trafalgar Square, London, 1920.|
Unfortunately, the plot drags on for far too long. It has none of the suspense that can sustain a drawn out storyline. The reader simply has to plod along with Bartram, looking over his shoulder while he traces various threads. It's one gloomy parlor interview after another.
Bartram himself is not a terribly compelling character. Sad and sympathetic, but not engaging. The only brightly drawn character is his friend Charles. Clearly modeled after one of London's Bright Young People, he actually brings to life a sliver of the times. And it's not just the fact that Charles' outlook is more positive. He is the only one with a palpable personality.
The "villain" is silly and the discovery of the villain even more so. It seems as if Speller wrote herself into a corner and had to create loopholes and surprise characters to make her shifty plot work. As it is, it makes little sense, and by the end the reader really couldn't care any less. Even if I wanted to read a melodrama, this was hardly an engrossing example of it.
But don't just take my word for it. You can read an excerpt here. You can also view the trailer here.
A sincere thanks to the folks at HMH Books for the review copy.
ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547511696 ; $26.00
Hardcover ; 448 pages
Publication Date: 07/04/2011
Trim Size: 5.50 x 8.25
It's rare for me to not like a book, but when I do find something that's not to my liking, I normally set it aside. I did not do that here. I read it cover to cover in order to give it a fair shake.