Give Pears a Chance

There are few things more exciting for a reader than discovering a new author. Not only do you have the good book you're reading at the moment, you have the promise of reading the author's previous books, you have the anticipation of new books. The only downside is that if the first book you read by the author is not only good but amazingly good, nay, great. It's a downside because you may find yourself comparing every other book by the author against that first, awesome book.

Iain Pears operates in the shadow of this downside thanks to An Instance of the Fingerpost, a historical mystery with multiple narrators, each of them concealing as well as revealing. Stone's Fall is also a historical mystery with multiple narrators, each of them, well, you get the idea. Pears is inviting comparison between these two books so let's just get it out of the way. No, this isn't as good as Instance. So what? Neither are the vast majority of historical mysteries published this year. It is, however, very good.

Stone's Fall is the story of the mysterious death of a mysterious man, John Stone. His power was pervasive yet shadowy, the source of his power is difficult to explain and the goals he sought to advance through the use of that power is far from clear. His wife hires a reporter to locate John Stone's unknown and only recently discovered illegitimate child, a job for which she will pay him extravagantly. This sends the reporter down the proverbial rabbit hole as he tries to find the child, figure out why the missus hire him instead of an investigator and learn the ins and outs of finance so he can understand what it is Stone really owns. Few authors could explain the intricacies of a stock company and make it nearly entertaining; Pears is one of them.

Of course, it doesn't matter how the stock company operates or who owns it. It's a Macguffin, a mere vehicle to transport the story. And what a story it is: sultry Hungarian countesses, shady Levantine salesmen, spies, terrorists, and more lunatics than you can shake a stick out. The first narrator is the most engaging and the most fleshed out. The second narrator is more opaque but still with moments of humor. The final narrator is surprisingly bloodless, surprising because of who it is (I'm not telling) and the story he or she has to tell. There are a few Pears' classic touches along the way: the minor character who is on to the whole thing and tells us but we readers don't believe him, the actual historical characters who have readers wracking their brains to remember what happened to them, and the link between human passions and the things we build that become bigger than us.

If you're a Pears fan, this is a must read. It is a little longer than it needs to be, part two could lose about 100 pages, and as mentioned the last narrator isn't as good as it could be but overall it is very good. If you're new to Iain Pears, I wouldn't recommend starting with this book, for the reasons mentioned above. All in all, it's an entertaining way to spend 700 pages.

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