Farthing is an alternate history that, like Dominion by C.J. Sansom, imagines a Britain that negotiated a peace with Hitler.
At first, the tone of the book made me wonder if I'd made the right choice. Lucy Kahn, a kind of dizzy dame stereotype, seems too light weight. Yet in spite of her upbringing among the socially elite, Lucy did have the gumption to marry a Jew and risk being shunned by her social set. Although Britain has yet to institute all of the restrictions that presaged the rise of the Nazi power in Germany, the prejudice against them is serious.
Lucy frequently mentions that she isn't as intelligent or well-educated as her husband, but there remains something inherently decent about her that appeals in spite of her naivety.
Lucy and David have been invited on short notice to attend a house party at her politically powerful parents' estate. Lucy didn't want to accept, knowing how much her mother hates David, but David feels the invitation to be an olive branch, and the two of them join the other guests for the weekend. He has faith in the basic integrity of the English.
When the politician who negotiated the peace with Hitler is murdered, circumstantial evidence points to David. At this point, Lucy begins to come into her own, gradually becoming more wary of the undercurrents and more suspicious of the circumstances of their invitation to be present for this particular party. In a way, Lucy has played a role, although perhaps unwittingly, most of her life. She dislikes and distrusts her mother and is well aware of the fact that her mother has never loved her, but now she feels genuinely threatened. The threat is directed at David, and Lucy's basic common sense and her own brand of intelligence begin to assert themselves.
The story is told from Lucy's first person narration and alternates with the perspective of the Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Carmichael. The two points of view give greater insight into the situation(s) taking place at the Farthing Estate.
Carmichael works the crime scene in a professional manner, but he also feels that events have been staged. He is well aware of the political and social power of the Farthing set, but trusts that the investigation can proceed objectively, despite the influence that can be exerted to reach a quick resolution.
As it turns out, both Carmichael and David are mistaken in their beliefs that the real culprit will be caught and that honor and ethics will prove successful. It is Lucy who first turns her thoughts to an alternative course of action.
The beginning is a little slow, but the characters of Lucy and Carmichael begin to develop, and the action becomes more and more tense. In the last few chapters, I had no idea whether or not Lucy and David would become victims...and either scenario seemed appropriate.
One thing I did find odd--about half of the important characters are gay or bisexual in a time when sexual preference could be not only damaging, but dangerous. This was true even in accurate, not alternate, history as exemplified by Alan Turing whose work at Bletchley Park had a great deal to do with the defeat of Germany in the real world. In this alternate history, however, it seems even stranger given that homosexuals joined gypsies and Jews in the gas chambers.
At any rate, I'm very glad to have read Farthing and will get to the next book, Ha'Penny soon.
Read in February.
Alternate History/Mystery/Police Procedural. Originally publ. in 2006. 320 pages.