This is a powerfully intriguing book that hurts itself in the end. Everything moves so smoothly, and then comes the end and disappointment.
Farthing is an alternate history. It’s set in a world that asks the question: What if England made peace with Hitler in WW2 and ceased control of Europe to the Nazis?
Walton does a fantastic job showing a world where Jews are hated not only on the European mainland, but even in America and England. It’s a world where the new ‘racism’ is being Jewish, period. Jews are banned in America, treated unfairly in England, and imprisoned, forced into labor, or killed in Europe (the Continent, the Nazi controlled place).
The story is set in England in the country. Lucy is the daughter of a nobility class known as the Farthing Set–a group of politically like minded nobles of sorts. Her mother hates her, and why is that? Because Lucy has married David Kahn, a Jew. She’s practically been outcast by her mother and while her father supports her decision to marry David–for love rather that political gain–it puts considerable strain on family ties. The story starts off in Farthing–where the Farthing Set basically live or socialize. Lucy and her husband have been invited out somewhat suddenly to a party at her parents place–Farthing. Lucy doesn’t want to go, but David insists, and they go. One morning it is discovered that one of the Farthing Set has been murdered. In comes Carmichael, a detective from Scotland Yard who soon discovers that this murder is more strange than it seems. Some of the guests are lying right to his face, the nature of the death of the individual is even more peculiar, and the Jewish Star attached to the body suggests to him that someone is trying to frame Kahn.
This rolls out much like an old English mystery and that gives the novel much of its charm. You soon learn that homosexuality is practically illegal in England, yet some of the nobility hide secrets of such actions. The story is very engaging and I found myself truly enjoying the character of Carmichael–he seems to be that sort of charming English chap you want to have around at Christmas.
But the story is killed, I think, in the end. Don’t read further, because I will spoil it for you.
Carmichael figures it all out: the entire Farthing Set, or most of them anyway, conspired to kill the man to raise sympathy for an upcoming vote, and they intended to use the Kahn’s as scapegoats. So it’s all an elaborate ruse so that the Farthing Set can take over–which they do–and begin a reign of fascism–which they do.
The problem is right in the end. Carmichael finds out one of his witnesses has been murdered–more than a coincidence–and he shows up at the Yard to present his case against Angela–the woman who killed her husband to set off the events mentioned. He presents the case and then he is told that Kahn did it and it would be in his best interest to simply go along with it. Why? Because they know about his secret gay relationship with his servant Jack and because it would be a pity for his career to end with such a scandel. Obviously, the police head is in the pocket of the Farthing Set.
So, what does Carmichael do? Does his show his true integrity and refuse to let in? Nope, exactly the opposite. Walton takes all the integrity of Carmichael and successfully throws it in the trash bin. Carmichael just accepts it, though somewhat unhappily, and just goes on with his life. Excuse me? What kind of BS ending is that? The inspector goes through all the trouble to figure it out only to just forget it…
Now, aside from the ending I would say the book is quite good. Just that darn ending hurts the book…