Alan Zendell's Reviews > Farthing

Farthing by Jo Walton
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's review
Oct 14, 2011

really liked it
Read in June, 2009

"Farthing" reads like a traditional English mystery: it's deliberate, smart, and frustratingly paced, but that's the way such stories are told. It's post World War II England, but it's an England in which Britain surrendered to German occupation and administration, a sort of Vichy England.

This is a well-told murder mystery in which the prime suspect is a Jew in a country under the thumb of the Nazis. And therein lies the crux of the story. It's not just a well-told mystery, it's a look into the soul of the British people.

The chief protagonist is a Scotland Yard detective who prosecutes his investigation thoroughly and scrupulously. There's a general atmosphere of antisemitism throughout both the elite society of post-war England and the police establishment, in its way a confirmation of George Orwell's premise in "1984": it's frightfully easy for a determined dictatorship to undermine the basic values of a population. Even so the detective has his line in the sand. He's basically a good cop whose basic decency rails against letting bigotry and politics determine the outcome of the case, though his principles threaten both his career and his existence.

I don't know much about the author, except that she emigrated from England to Canada in 2002. I couldn't shake the feeling that she believes the English are fundamentally bigoted, and would easily succumb to the kind of pressure they are subjected to in her novel. I hope she's wrong, but several hundred years of history prior to World War II make me wonder.
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