The central mystery of Iain Pears’ Stone’s Fall concerns how John Stone died. Was the rich and powerful ship-building magnate pushed from the window or was it an accident? And who is the child mentioned in his will—the child he wants found? A web of international financial intrigue surrounds these questions.
It’s no romance, but the power and consequences of attraction drive the plot. “Stone’s Fall” felt like a Bronte novel—the descriptiveness and lofty style. Pears takes a Victorian approach to the matter of sexual attraction, leaving out the details, while every other nuance of characters’ interactions is described in formal detail.
Central character Elizabeth, Lady Ravenscliff—Stone’s widow--casts a spell on men close to her. The book begins with her Paris funeral in 1953. A young London solicitor attends Elizabeth’s funeral and happens to meet a famed BBC reporter, Matthew Braddock. The young solicitor describes her as “quite captivating,” even as an old woman.
But the point of the book is not to discuss attraction for its own sake. The sexual is only one sort of attraction—there’s the attraction to power and money as well.
Told in three parts, the tangle of questions isn’t resolved until the final pages.
The years 1909, 1890, and 1867 form the backdrop for this backward-moving narrative in three parts set in London, Paris, and Venice (great cities for historical fiction). Each part unravels the mysteries introduced in the previous sections.
To know the past is to understand the present. The backward movement in time brings out the answers to the mysteries surrounding this “captivating” woman and the death of her husband.
I so enjoyed the level of sophistication and the care for historical realism, I'm not even going to complain about the global-level coincidences that made the plot happen.