Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Half a Crown

Jo Walton
Completed 6/29/2020, Reviewed 6/30/2020
4 stars

This is the third book in the Small Change trilogy, which began with Farthing and was followed by Ha’penny.  It’s another book that by the middle, I could not put it down.  This one began a little slowly, but picked up quickly.  It takes place ten years after the last book.  It still features Investigator Peter Carmichael who is now head of the British equivalent of the Gestapo and his ward, Elvira, the daughter of another policeman who was killed in the first book.  This being the end of the trilogy, everything that had been percolating in the previous books finally comes to a dramatic head.  The book didn’t win any awards but was nominated for several, including two in other countries.

Though Carmichael is head of the Watch, he is part of a secret network inside and outside the Watch to get Jews out of the country.  There is a peace conference scheduled to take place in London between the fascist prime minister Normanby, Hitler, and the royal prince of Japan, the representatives of the three superpowers.  All eyes are on London and it is Carmichael’s job to keep the city under control.  At the same time, Elvira and her best friend Betsy are about to make their coming out as debutantes.  About a week before the conference, the two of them go to a rally with Lord Alan, a friend of Betsy’s family.  A riot ensues.  Betsy breaks her arm and Elvira is arrested.  Elvira is treated terribly, being pumped for information she doesn’t have.  Carmichael gets her out, but it is only the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare for both of them that culminates in a dramatic opening of the peace conference. 

The book has the same form as the previous two.  It is told by two narrators, Elvira in first person, and third person from Carmichael’s perspective.  It is Elvira’s narrative that begins at a slow pace.  Although very smart (she’s been accepted at Oxford), she’s still rather a bubble-headed debutante.  But her story becomes very interesting.  Her mother abandoned her at the age of six and her father was killed when she was eight.  Carmichael raises her to be a proper lady even though her mentor, Betsy’s mother, considers her guttertrash.  Still, she transcends the slights and focuses on position and future.  She has little mind for politics and though disturbing, her upper-class mentality makes her arrest and detention almost comical.  But as the story continues, she becomes more aware of the state of the country and begins her own unlikely fight against fascism.

Carmichael is again a great character.  His relationship with is partner Jack is more detailed in this book than in the others.  Even though Elvira lived with them, he and Jack kept their relationship a secret from her, as they did from the rest of the world.  Still, the prime minister and the head of Scotland Yard know about him and Jack and use that to manipulate him, as they have since the end of the first book.  Somehow, Carmichael stays sane balancing being a substitute father, a husband, the head of the Watch, and the head of the secret movement to get persecuted Jews out of the country.

I give this book four stars out of five.  The writing is prosy, but tight and the dialogue realistic.  The unveiling of events is riveting.  On my second day of reading, I could barely put the book down.  I stayed up too late to finish it, and way to late to write this review.  I have to say as a whole, the trilogy is tremendous.  It’s well thought out and has a dramatic conclusion.  I love Jo Walton’s writing and am looking forward to her most recent trilogy, the first of which I’ve already picked up on sale. 

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