Feb 02, 10
Read in January, 2010
This is my new favorite book! It's one of those stories that pulls the reader into its world. Who would think that a book about the development of capitalism, and industrialization could be so interesting! Pears makes these subjects thrilling --- as the bankers and industrialists of the late 1800's must have felt it. The mystery of who killed John Stone, Baron of Ravensciliff does not unravl until the very end, and its conclusion is perfectly true to the rest of the story.
The movement back in time, and the transfer of narrator is also intersting. The first narrator,to 1909 Matthrew Braddock,is a retiring radio broadcaster who remembers his part in the story. So we go from the introduction, in Paris, March, 1953 to his first introduction to John and Elizabeth Ravenscliff. He falls in love with the incredibly beautiful and magnetic Elizabeth at the beginning of her widowhood. He slowly discovers that his being hired to find out about John's unknown child, is thought to be a cover that allows time for the banks and John's companies to recover from his death. (At the end of this section, it is revealed that what the time was needed for was to allow for the sale of the battle ships that Stone had been building to be sold to the British government! This section of the book also allows for a very simple explanation of the banking information that is necessary for the reader's understanding of the rest of the book. Braddock is as naive a narrator in this respect as any reader could be. It is a useful conceit.
Braddock's part ends with the attempted assasination of the Tsar when he visits Cowes. Elizabeth, in her disquise of Jenny the anarchist, kills the man who was the assassin and wounds Matthew as he attempts to stop Jan.
The second part of the story is told by Cort in 1890, who has been left the story Stone -- the last part of the book and letters, etc. after Stone dies. Here we find out about Cort's early life, his damaged father, and dead mother. He is raised by family friends, but his early life is financed by an unknown benefactor (Stone.) It is Stone who gets him into his life as a spy when he is a young man. It is here that he meets and befriends Eliabeth whom he knows as Virginie. He becomes a spy for the British Goverment in France, and in later years meets Elizabth in her next character, the Countess Elizabeth Hadik-Barkoczy von Futak uns Szala, who is the star of who own Salon, and has become the mistress of several men at once --- who only see her once a week. As each man is completely supporting her, she is raking in the cash. At the edn of this section, Cort stumbles onto/discovers a plan by the Russians and French to create a run on the Bank of England. At the last moment, he unmasks Elizabeth to one of her men to force the Minister to accede to the wishes of the bankers and save the British government, and the economies of Europe. Stone, who has fallen in love with her over the last few months, rescues her by marrying her and takaing her to England. They have 20 happy years together.
The last part of the story takes place in Venice in 1867. It is the story of how Stone got his start. He does it by stealing the design of the torpedo from its designer, McIntyre, who dies. He also has an affair with Henry Cort's mother. At the end of this section, Lousie Cort tells her husband that she is pregnant with John Stone's child. He goes beserk, and causes McIntyre's death. She is placed in an asylum for the criminally insane, where she stays for about 20 years.
The letter at the end of the story, wrtten just before Stone kills himself, reveals the horrible truth. The child that Louise had, that Stone has been searching for ever since, is Elizabeth herself!
He kills himself so he won't have to tell her and swears his executors to silence until she dies.
I needed to rewrite the plot, to tie all the ends up in my mind. But the story is so much more. So many interesting characters, and so much period details, that are an integral part of the story make this book one that I couldn't read through at my usual speedreading rate. The details were just too interesting. I can't wait to re-read it.