In his most dazzling novel since the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears tells the story of John Stone, financier and arms dealer, a man so wealthy that in the years before World War One he was able to manipulate markets, industries, and indeed entire countries and continents.
A panoramic novel with a riveting mystery at its heart, Stone’s Fall is a quest to discover how and why John Stone dies, falling out of a window at his London home. Chronologically, it moves backwards–from London in 1909 to Paris in 1890, and finally to Venice in 1867– and in the process the quest to uncover the truth plays out against the backdrop of the evolution of high-stakes international finance, Europe’s first great age of espionage, and the start of the twentieth century’s arms race.
Like Fingerpost, Stone’s Fall is an intricately plotted and richly satisfying puzzle–an erudite work of history and fiction that feels utterly true and oddly timely–and marks the triumphant return of one of the world’s great storytellers.
I had an interesting time with Stone’s Fall. I read most of it in a couple of days, then set aside the last 200 pages to be read several weeks later. I didn’t do it on purpose, I just didn’t feel like lugging such a huge book on a plane with me. It’s worth noting that I wasn’t particularly compelled to pick it up again, especially as I’d forgotten most of what happened, but I enjoyed the end when I got to it.
Since it’s set in three time periods, it takes a bit of patience to see where this book is going. At first, everything seems clear. John Stone and his wife Elizabeth are fairly ordinary as millionaires go; it’s only when Stone falls out a window and Elizabeth invites reporter Matthew Braddock into their home that things get interesting. Stone has insisted that they find an illegitimate child of his before the will can be settled, but no one can find this child. And so this twisting mystery begins with a search, but widens into something much more.
Despite its massive length, Stone’s Fall needed every word to pull off its twisting plot. Even though the story goes back in time, we have no idea what the outcome in the present time is until the full story is told, and that outcome is extremely unexpected. I can’t imagine anyone guessing the result of this mystery and it’s all the better for it; I like a little unpredictability in my reading. It’s hard to get attached to the characters, especially as we’re treated to details of their sordid pasts, but they are complex and well-developed in all stages of their lives. I thought the best character was the man who represented Venice in the book’s last segment. The city is a character, so it makes perfect sense for it to be manifested as a human being. This was a nice touch.
If you like long, involved mysteries, I would recommend Stone’s Fall to you. It would be a great read for anyone else, too, but I do have to suggest not putting it down once you get involved! It’s hard to pick up the pieces in such a convoluted plot, at least not until it starts to make sense towards the end. I am still looking forward to An Instance of the Fingerpost by this author, which is sitting on my TBR pile staring at me.