This novel is a murder mystery with a twist: what if a fascist English government had made a separate peace with Hitler? In the world of this book, it’s 1949, and war still rages between the Third Reich (which now encompasses all of Europe) and the Soviet Union, but England has managed to remain at peace. The “Farthing set,” who engineered the treaty with Hitler, have congregated at an English country estate, where Lucy (the daughter of the house) and her husband David are staying. Because David is Jewish, they both endure various snubs and cruelties from the other guests. Then a notable member of the Farthing set is murdered, and his corpse is decorated with Jewish symbols. Lucy is convinced that her husband has been framed, and Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard agrees. But as the English government becomes more totalitarian and anti-Semitic, both Lucy and Carmichael must make devastating choices that could allow the murderer to go free.
This book was unsettling, to say the least, and I have very conflicting feelings about it. Part of the story is told from Lucy’s perspective, and I really enjoyed her character and her narrative voice. I also think the book very skillfully depicts a nation’s slow slide into despotism; one of the most heartbreaking and effective parts of the book, for me, was David’s strong faith in England. Despite the hardships he endures, he is convinced that Jews will never be persecuted in England the way they are in the Reich…but of course, events in the book ultimately prove him wrong. On the negative side, the “mystery” element of the book is very underdeveloped. I also became irritated by the sheer number of secret, illicit, and/or adulterous relationships in the book; it seemed like EVERY character was involved, which strained my credulity. (Also, everyone seems to have really good “gaydar,” if you’ll pardon the expression!) Overall, I’m not sure the positives outweighed the negatives for me, and I’m still undecided about continuing with the series.