Corsair Books, out now
Inspector Carmichael investigates a bombing, as Viola Larkin is dragooned into an assassination conspiracy…
Jo Walton’s trilogy continues with this view of England in the aftermath of the further descent into fascism recounted at the end of Farthing. She uses the same format as the initial book – first person narration by a female; third person account from Carmichael’s point of view – and there are more links to the original story than you might think. As with the first novel, real people make cameo appearances alongside the fictional constructs, and particularly where their lives’ paths have changed considerably as a result of the Farthing Peace, their presence is illuminating. With the war only lasting a small fraction of the time it did in our world, social mores haven’t changed as much (and as far as I can see, there’s no threat of a nuclear bomb hanging over anyone) so this is an intriguing mix of the 1930s and 1940s.
Viola Larkin (or Viola Lark) is linked through her sisters to both Nazi and Communists, although she herself isn’t that political – at least at first. As the story develops she’s exposed to a wider world than she might have believed possible, and she starts to understand far more about what’s happening both in England and Europe. (Any links between her and the Mitford sisters of course is purely coincidental…)
Meanwhile Carmichael, whose homosexuality continues to be held over his head by his superiors, once again is embroiled in a case which brings him into contact with members of the Establishment. He’s a troubled man trying to do the right thing in an environment where the lesser of two evils is usually the only choice – as he realises at the end of the book, doing nothing simply isn’t an option for him.
A cross-cast production of Hamlet is critical (although the theatre facade created for the cover wouldn’t have happened for reasons that become obvious) and Walton skilfully uses some of the themes from Shakespeare’s tale within her own story. It adds another dimension to an already-clever concept.
Verdict: A solid and sometimes surprising continuation of the alternate-history of Britain. 8/10