Best Book of the Week!
Ever since Iain Pears wrote the stunning An Instance of the Fingerpost, I have been waiting for him to come out with something that could match it for complexity and interest. He has finally achieved this with Stone’s Fall.
Did he fall or was he pushed? might be the question journalist Matthew Braddock is asked to answer when Elizabeth Stone hires him after her husband falls to his death from his office window. Instead, she asks him to find the child John Stone mentioned in his will. Stone’s estate is tied up during the search for this unknown heir, but Elizabeth says she has no ulterior motives except a sincere wish to follow her husband’s wishes. As Stone was an extremely wealthy but private arms manufacturer and the only person who could understand the complex structure of his inter-related companies, many are concerned in his affairs, even the British government.
Completely infatuated with the older woman and feeling wholly unqualified to find the child, Braddock instead concentrates on investigating the last days of Stone’s life and the state of his corporations. In doing so, he finds evidence that Stone’s net worth was not nearly as large as everyone thinks. He also has questions about the involvement of Henry Cort, a mysterious figure believed to work for the Foreign Office. Braddock relates the tale of what he discovered quite some time after his 1909 investigation, in 1953 after Elizabeth Stone’s funeral.
Braddock’s story does not answer many questions even though he believes he has found some facts, but after his narrative, he includes a manuscript sent to him by Henry Cort. Cort takes his own story back further, to events in Paris of 1890, when he befriends Elizabeth after having known her years before.
The final section of the novel takes us to Venice in 1867, when as a young man John Stone meets Cort’s parents and the man who invented the torpedo that began Stone’s empire. It is in this final section of the novel that we begin to understand the answers to the mysteries of John Stone’s life and death.
This series of narratives is like a set of nested gift boxes–as we unwrap each one, we learn more and go deeper into the story, finally beginning to understand the mysterious Stone. The novel is impeccably plotted and beautifully written–a great reading experience for those who appreciate a mystery that is not formulaic.