Completed 6/26/2020, Reviewed 6/26/2020
This is another amazing book in the Small Change trilogy. Like it’s predecessor Farthing, it’s a mystery set in an alternative England where it is allied with the victorious Nazis in 1949. This one didn’t have me as enthralled as the first book. I thought the pacing was a little slow in the middle, but it’s still a mostly riveting read. Where this book really excelled was in the characterization. I thought Viola Lark, one of the two narrators, was brilliantly depicted. I think I also really liked it because it was about theater people, and I love the theater. This book was nominated for multiple awards, including the Gaylactic Spectrum Award in 2008, and won the Prometheus Award the same year.
The book starts out shortly after the end of the previous one. An actress and another person are killed when a bomb goes off in her house. It’s quickly established that bomb was being assembled there and went off accidently. Scotland Yard Investigator Peter Carmichael is once again called in to investigate. It turns out the actress was supposed to be in a new production of Hamlet in London. The story also follows Viola, who is tapped to play Hamlet in the same gender-bending production. It turns out Viola has a familial connection to this bombing. In addition, Hitler, Himmler, and the new fascist prime minister Normanby are scheduled to attend the opening night. Carmichael can see what’s going on, but it is up to him to get the evidence and put the pieces together before the deadly night.
The story is once again told through two narratives, Viola’s and Carmichael’s. In Viola’s first-person narrative, she tells the story of how she came to find out the connections her family has to the bombings and to Hitler, as well as the progression of the play. With Carmichael, we get another third-person police procedural, but this time, there’s more emphasis on his personal relationship with his partner, who poses as his manservant to try to obfuscate their gay identities. Both narratives are told extremely well, although, as I mentioned above, I thought it got a little slow in the middle, particularly in Viola’s story. However, her transformation from politically ignorant to awareness is what kept me going through that part.
Carmichael is also really well developed as he copes with the despair and hopelessness from the last case and the hopelessness of being gay in a country that is becoming more fascist. There’s more interaction with his partner Jack, though he spends so much time on the case, we don’t get to see as much of Jack as I’d like.
The book is still terrifying in its depiction of a world where Jews, homosexuals, and other undesirables are made scapegoats and are brutally treated. There’s even a law which suspends constitutionally guaranteed rights in order to round up people without trial. Jews are sent back to continental Europe, which is completely occupied by the Nazis, because “they know how to take care of them there.” It’s all very chilling and poignant given what’s going on in the USA today.
I give this book four stars out of five, that’s one less star than its predecessor, because of the lost pacing in the middle. But other than that, it’s a fine book with terrific prose and realistic dialogue. I’m going to take a break again and read another book before getting to the last entry in the trilogy, mostly to chill after the very suspenseful, thought-provoking ending.