four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-Stones FallThe Story: In Victorian Europe, the convergence of modern finance, industry, and politics changed the world forever. Through three interlocking stories, Stone’s Fall explores this transformation. In London in 1909, John Stone (Lord Ravenscliff), a powerful financier and arms manufacturer, falls to his death—perhaps murdered. His will bestows his fortune to a love child that his glamorous but deceiving wife, Elizabeth, never knew existed. She hires a young journalist, Matthew Braddock, who starts to ask questions about Stone’s vast empire and its connection to British politics. The narrative then shifts backwards in time to 1890 Paris and Henry Cort, a banker turned spy. Finally, in 1867 Venice, Stone himself recounts two life-changing events—a romance and the engineering of a weapon—and the shocking truth about his death becomes clear.
Spiegel & Grau. 608 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0385522843

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Stone’s Fall is the best kind of fiction: a powerful combination of storytelling and ideas. The former keeps us mesmerized; the latter prompts us to reflect. It’s a luminous example of how writers can blur, with great success, the porous barrier between ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ literature." Adam Woog

Scotsman (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It is a novel which frequently and daringly challenges credibility, skating on the thinnest of ice, and yet meets that challenge successfully every time. It may not go as deep as Pears’s masterpiece to date—which I hold to be The Death of Scipio rather than the bestseller, An Instance of the Fingerpost—and as an example of the sort of fiction which invites the willing suspension of disbelief, it is outstanding." Allan Massie

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Each section reads almost like a self-contained novel, but slowly various elements—seemingly minor or disconnected—converge to offer the full story. … [Stone’s Fall] demands slow reading (and even rereading) as the many pieces of this intricate puzzle masterfully come together." Carmela Ciuraru

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"There is barely any sex, not much action, but an awful lot of fastidiously plotted intrigue and deft period atmosphere. And, by the end, we realise that Pears has a great subject after all—not finance really, but Lady Ravenscliff." Helen Rumbelow

Telegraph (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel is above all a romp, albeit an exceptionally intelligent and entertaining one." David Robson

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"[A] labyrinthine historical thriller that travels (sometimes nimbly, sometimes ploddingly) back to the dawn of modern trading and on through two world wars. … This is a massive and well-made book, one ultimately better at characterizing money matters than human affairs." Julia Holmes

Sunday Times (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"Stone’s Fall still has a distinct but not unpleasant odour of genre fiction about it, from the slickness of the title onwards. At just over 600 convoluted pages it is a pretty heavy piece of light reading, but it certainly entertains, it even informs after a fashion, and it is altogether a generous, triple-decker slab of upmarket historical hokum." Phil Baker

Critical Summary

"Think of a subject so dull that no one would possibly think to make a thriller out of it. Now double the length of said thriller. Then add the author Iain Pears—and you’ve got a weird magic trick on your hands," noted the Times in amazement. Although he introduces complex ideas about global finance and industry, Pears humanizes them through his wholly compelling characters—engaging, shady, and unreliable—and detailed settings, from anarchist meetings to Parisian salons. Riveting, smart, and thoroughly enjoyable, this historical thriller may initially baffle readers, but the mysteries presented in each section do coalesce. A few critics complained of clichés, esoteric concepts, and the book’s length, but the Seattle Times summed up sentiment: "The heft may be daunting, but this erudite tour de force is more than worth the time invested."