three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
By: 
Jo Walton
user_rating: 
0

A-FarthingIn an alternative history set in 1949 Britain—specifically at Farthing, an estate where the country’s political movers and shakers meet—Sir James Thirkle is murdered, a yellow star pinned to his chest with a dagger. Thirkle was instrumental in brokering a deal that effectively ceded continental Europe and the USSR to Hitler nearly a decade before, as well as in ending World War II for the British and keeping the country independent of the Nazis. The story is told from the points of view of Lucy Kahn, the host’s daughter and the wife of a Jewish Royal Air Force pilot, and Peter Carmichael, a Scotland Yard Inspector summoned to investigate Thirkle’s death. The novel is at once a murder mystery and an examination of a nation’s flirtation with fascism.
Tor. 320 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0765314215

AmericanHeritage.com 4 of 5 Stars
"Farthing suggests that the likeliest alternative to World War II was not a world of Guardian columnists spared a guilty conscience over Dresden, and that the people who didn’t want to fight Hitler to the death were at least as likely to be very nasty customers as they were to be people who were more farsighted and historically sophisticated than Winston Churchill. … [Walton] has written a very clever little novel to get her point across." Fredric Smoler

Locus 4 of 5 Stars
"Walton is dealing with a larger mystery—why people do evil to one another—and here she succeeds brilliantly. … [Farthing is] a clear-eyed, passionate meditation on universal themes: injustice, civil liberties, the fear of the outsider." Lisa Goldstein

Green Man Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Walton doesn’t rival her models Josephine Tey or Dorothy Sayers in the mechanics of mystery writing—the puzzle itself struck me as rather loose and sloppy. … Though it wears the trappings of a lighthearted entertainment, don’t read [Farthing] unless you’re prepared to look at our own world in a different way: with anger, with tears, with questions that demand our immediate attention." Lory Hess

Strange Horizons 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Farthing is a clever murder mystery but a rather simplistic political statement. … Walton can write, and write well, but in seeking to teach us a rather blunt lesson, she comes close to breaking her novel’s promise." Dan Hartland

Critical Summary

Jo Walton, a World Fantasy Award winner for her novel Tooth and Claw and author of other well-received genre novels, proves her flexibility in a story that seethes with the energy of what-might-have-been. Critics compare the mystery features of the novel to the work of Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers (although critics debate how successfully Walton carries off the traditional cozy), and the author’s crossover appeal is apparent here. Although the underlying political message strikes one critic as "simplistic," Farthing should find an interested mainstream audience, in addition to garnering kudos from existing fans.