Stone's Fall, Iain Pears, Spiegal & Grau, 2009, 594 pp
Three years ago, I read Iain Pear's The Dream of Scipio and it has remained in my mind as an intriguing piece of historical and philosophical fiction. Stone's Fall was an equally challenging read; Pears makes a reader work as far as paying attention to characters and time periods while keeping track of hints that he hides in the text.
The story begins in 1909, with the death of immensely wealthy financier and arms dealer John Stone, the Baron Lord Ravenscliff, a patriot, but essentially a businessman. His wife, Elizabeth, Lady Ravenscliff, has summoned a lowly reporter on the judicial beat of a London newspaper and offered him an outrageous sum to investigate certain aspects of her late husband's life, in particular the identity of a previously unacknowledged child mentioned in his will.
In the space of nineteen pages, the reader has been thrown into a whole set of mysteries, not the least of which is the nature Lady Ravencliff's game. By the end of Part One, I was fascinated by Elizabeth and John Stone but felt more confused than ever and wondered how the author would make sense of the story.
Part Two is set in Paris during 1890. The origins of Elizabeth are revealed and she is not at all what she appeared to be. The abilities and power that John Stone wielded avert a potential financial collapse interestingly similar to the one we are currently experiencing. Henry Cort, a man who was inexplicably in Elizabeth's confidence during Part One turns out to be a British spy who almost causes more trouble that he averts. Each of these characters is complex with levels below levels of personality and desires.
Not until the very end of Part Three does all become clear. In Venice, 1867, John Stone is a young man trying to find his way in life. He makes the kind of mistakes that young men make and which haunt a man no matter how successful he becomes. The intricate puzzle of Stone's Fall was frustrating, even maddening to read. In the end I decided it was worth all I had been put through as a reader, because I had been entertained and informed as well as deeply drawn into these characters' lives.
(Stone's Fall is available in hardcover at Once Upon A Time Bookstore)