Goddard’s territory is the unquiet past. Real historic events and people are often part of the mix, often as a MacGuffin, but prior knowledge of the events is not required for enjoyment. It is no insult to say he has a formula. Beyond the double-crosses and intricate plot twists, Goddard always chooses to keep the stakes high for his lead characters. They’re usually men who’ve either nothing left to lose or who find themselves stripped of all they value in the course of the story.
This time out Goddard sticks with historic events but makes a very odd choice in his lead character. Instead of the usual down on his luck male lead we have Richard Eusden, a man who stands to lose a few days of PTO if things don’t work out. He’s helping out an old friend, Marty, who has all the characteristics of the usual Goddard lead. This isn’t a bold choice, however, it’s mystifying because it never provides anything new just less of what brings readers to Goddard in the first place. The pacing doesn’t make up for the lack of high stakes. The characters can’t take airplanes so the action is frequently broken up for long train rides (locals!) and car trips. The MacGuffin is particularly strained for my taste and the end is, well, found wanting. Goddard throws in a character in the last 50 pages that we’ve heard nothing about before who is the key to it all including the title. This is truly disappointing coming from a master of intricate plotting.
At one point I started to wonder if Goddard wasn’t writing a deliberate parody of his own books. The overwhelming impression left is that Goddard didn’t connect with his chosen material this time out and tried to muddle through anyway. Despite the two stars I’ve given this book I’ll still pre-order Goddard’s next book because when he’s on his game there is no one better at delivering the unexpected jolt. If you are new to Robert Goddard, please don’t start with this book. Try Into the Blue or Painting the Darkness instead.