Farthing by Jo Walton

image“I’m sure you know what I want to talk to you about, Luce,” he started.
I nodded. “David,” I said. “I love him, Daddy, and I want to marry him.”
“David Kahn,” Daddy had said, as if the words left a bad taste in his mouth.
I started to say something feeble in David’s defense, but Daddy held up a hand. “I already know what you’re going to say, so save your breath. He was born in England, he’s a war hero, his family are very wealthy. I could counter with the fact that he was educated on the Continent, he’s a Jew, and not one of us.”
“I was just going to say we love each other,” I said, with as much dignity as I could manage.

Lucy Kahn, née Eversley, is the daughter of one of the most powerful politicans in England. Her father is a member of the Farthing set, who collectively negotiated peace with Hitler in 1942. Persona non grata with her family since her marriage to a Jewish man, she is nevertheless invited to a family country house party with her husband, David. Over the course of a weekend, a guest is murdered, and as the motive appears to be a Jewish revenge, David is the main suspect.

Lucy narrates her version of events, but we also follow Inspector Carmichael, called in from Scotland Yard to investigate — not an easy job since his suspects include cabinet minsters! The minutiae of the English class system are thrown into sharp relief since the Inspector is only a member of the minor nobility, and he has secrets of his own.

On the surface, this is your standard country-house mystery. A cast of characters, all with secrets (and motives) converge on an English country house for the weekend, somebody is murdered, and an impartial Inspector must see his way through all of the clues and red herrings to find out who did it. However, this book merely uses the well-worn template to explore something much more complex — how easily people are seduced by Facism, and how quickly paranoia and suspicion can spread.

The power of the alternate history setting is to show how easily Facism could have taken root in England in the 1940s, and that what happened to Jews on the continent took them as much by surprise as it would have done here — people didn’t believe something so horrific would happen to them until it was already too late to do anything about it.

The main murder-mystery plot is put together really well, with enough clues and red-herrings to keep the reader guessing, but also to make the solution satisfactory. There are lots of lovely little details as well, my favourite is an offhand remark about Kim Philby (a Soviet spy in our reality, presumed so in this one too) becoming Junior Foreign Minister!

I really enjoyed this book — a fun murder mystery on one level, a thought-provoking examination on power and freedom on another.

Farthing is available from Amazon.

One thought on “Farthing by Jo Walton

  1. This sounds like a fascinating read. I grew up in an area with many Jews and my looks fit me so easily into that mix. So I got the bad end of the stick too. My older blond haired/blue eyed brothers father was Jewish and he was always my hero trying to defend me from bullies. Now that I live in Texas many people walk up to me speaking Spanish. I blend really well! I can completely relate to where this book is going! If you are wondering how I feel about all of that it has more or less rolled off of me like water…why I don’t know. What I do know is that my prejudices are almost non existent.


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