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Stone's Fall

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In his most dazzling novel since the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears tells the story of John Stone, financier and arms dealer, a man so wealthy that in the years before World War One he was able to manipulate markets, industries, and indeed entire countries and continents.

A panoramic novel with a riveting mystery at its heart, Stone’s Fall is a quest to discover how and why John Stone dies, falling out of a window at his London home.

Chronologically, it moves backwards–from London in 1909 to Paris in 1890, and finally to Venice in 1867– and in the process the quest to uncover the truth plays out against the backdrop of the evolution of high-stakes international finance, Europe’s first great age of espionage, and the start of the twentieth century’s arms race.

Like Fingerpost, Stone’s Fall is an intricately plotted and richly satisfying puzzle–an erudite work of history and fiction that feels utterly true and oddly timely–and marks the triumphant return of one of the world’s great storytellers.

594 pages, Hardcover

First published May 5, 2009

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About the author

Iain Pears

26 books814 followers
Iain Pears is an English art historian, novelist and journalist. He was educated at Warwick School, Warwick, Wadham College and Wolfson College, Oxford. Before writing, he worked as a reporter for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK) and ZDF (Germany) and correspondent for Reuters from 1982 to 1990 in Italy, France, UK and US. In 1987 he became a Getty Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Yale University. His well-known novel series features Jonathan Argyll, art historian, though international fame first arrived with his best selling book An Instance of the Fingerpost (1998), which was translated into several languages. Pears currently lives with his wife and children in Oxford.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 959 reviews
Profile Image for Laura.
385 reviews506 followers
May 4, 2009
Well, all you Iain Pears fans can relax -- he's written a terrific book again. (I say this as an Iain Pears fan who had to throw The Dream of Scipio against the wall with great force.)

As in An Instance of the Fingerpost, Pears uses multiple narrators to tell the story of financier John Stone's death after a fall out a window. The multiple narrators, in turn, narrate stories taking place in different eras, each illuminating the mystery at the heart of it all: who killed John Stone, and why? The story begins in 1953 Paris; continues in 1909 London; goes back to Paris, this time in 1890; continues in 1867 Venice; and finally takes us back to London, 1909.

Yes, I know -- sounds like a big mess, even more so when you take into account that fact that one long section of the book has a a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it (think Global Financial Crisis). But Pears pulls it off beautifully, with as sure a narrative hand as I've ever seen; just when you're worried that he's finally written a check he can't cash, damned if he doesn't go and cash it (although sometimes you have to wait around 500 pages to figure out how). And unlike many writers of this genre, Pears can flat out write. He's not a flashy stylist, but not a single sentence descends to the banal. And to make matters even better, Pears takes the time to write characters who are well-rounded and real, even in a book where a lesser writer would have decided that symbols and shorthand would suffice (are you listening, Caleb Carr? No, I don't suppose you are, actually. Never mind.).

The book does suffer somewhat from the same malady that afflicts many books with multiple narrators -- namely, the voice doesn't change all that much from narrator to narrator (compare this book, for example, with David Mitchell's tour de force in Cloud Atlas, which you'd swear was written by six different people).

But that's really a quibble, as Pears has written an absolutely ripping yarn. Although readers more clever than I might be able to figure out the Big Reveal early on, they'll have so much fun following the characters and back and forth from one city and era to the next (and back again), and they'll be so involved with unraveling this intricately layered story, that they probably won't care too much.

Go read this.
Profile Image for Lars Jerlach.
Author 3 books158 followers
December 21, 2017
The central question in Stone’s Fall is fairly simple: How and why did the powerful and extremely wealthy industrialist John Stone fall to his death from an opened window of his London home?
To find the answer to that question, the intriguing but rather slow moving story is told by three different narrators in three separate parts, London 1909, Paris 1890 and Venice 1869, and travels back in time to tell the story backwards, a narrative method I found particularly rewarding.
The three narrators, (that perhaps could be a little more distinctive) are all in some way involved in a plot meticulously constructed and executed.

There is quite a few parallel stories to follow: Global industrial and political intrigue, European financial power struggles, mysterious investigations, several romantic dalliances and murders covering a fair amount of time.

Stone’s Fall is neither a thriller nor is it a literary novel in the best sense of the word. It is perhaps closer to a mystery novel, but one in which the reader is expected to be interested in the many intricacies of history to gain the most enjoyment from the slow moving punctilious venture.

Although I readily admit I was less intrigued by the, no doubt studiously researched, financial intrigues of the storyline, I nevertheless found myself fascinated by the beautiful language, the detailed descriptions, the vigorous characters and the complex, methodically constructed plot.
Overall a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding experience.
Profile Image for Jon.
1,289 reviews
July 2, 2009
This is a very long novel (I'd guess nearly 300,000 words), and as the official blurb says, it is ingenious and intricately plotted. But I think it could have been just as ingenious and intricate at about half the length. I was hoping it would be as good as An Instance of the Fingerpost, but I was disappointed. Like that one, it is divided into sections, each with a different narrator; but in this case, the narrators all sound pretty much alike, and none of them is particularly engaging. In fact, there are no characters with which I could either sympathize or identify. Everything seems cold and calculated. Central to the book is a mysterious and alluring woman, but anyone who has read My Cousin Rachel will have seen mysterious and alluring done much more convincingly. Writing the novel backwards (with each section narrating events that occurred before what we have already seen) must have been excruciatingly difficult, and it's amazing that Pears pulls it off so successfully. At times the strain shows, though, as in a very late scene which is contrived to be tense (major characters trapped in a basement with a madman, tons of explosive, and the madman about to light the fuse), but we already know that three of the four characters will still be alive years from now. In spite of it's overall organization, the novel meanders, and the thread of suspense is often lost in massive amounts of detail. An excellent puzzle, but once the puzzle is solved in the final pages, you can set the book aside and forget it. There are no memorable experiences here.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,160 reviews1,920 followers
December 27, 2013
A quite decent historical thriller with lots of twists and turns, plot devices galore, red herrings, political machinations, high finances, boys own spying adventures, romance, betrayal, industrial espionage, the entente cordiale, naval warfare, anarchism and the evil that people do. It is well written and researched and works backwards; from a funeral in the 1950s, to London in 1909, Paris in 1890 and finally Venice in 1867.
The starting point is the death of a wealthy industrialist and financier, John Stone, in 1909. The death takes place in unusual circumstances and it is unclear how and why he died; the will also leaves a number of mysteries. Stone's wife hires a journalist to look into it; so the fun begins.
This is a decent historical thriller. The twist at the end is nasty if you don't see it coming (it seems from the reviews some did and some did not). Most of the characters are well written and strong, but because of the way the plot jumps around there is little continuity and the reader has to adapt to three different narrators.
If you want to see something odd look up the wiki entry on this book; it takes obssession to a whole new level, really strange!!
It is quite a hefty tome and Pears seems to be adept at writing gripping historical thrillers. If you like that that sort of thing it is worth reading. The denouement is shocking, even if you guess it. It certainly made me think that here is an author who really doesn't like his characters if he can create this; However I am not a writer and perhaps am not in a position to make that sort of judgement. Despite the fact that the strongest and most interesting character is a women, there is also perhaps a touch of misogyny in the whole piece. However my random thoughts perhaps indicate that there is quite a lot going on and it held my attention (admittedly at the end of the day just prior to sleep with the cat sleeping across my legs!)
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews618 followers
July 30, 2010
This novel got steadily better as I read it--it's shaped like a Klein bottle. The first section, which takes place in London in 1910, is worth three stars. A journalist is hired by a mysterious wealthy widow to help resolve the will of her husband, John Stone, who died by falling out a window. The will gives a bequest to an unnamed child of Stone's, who must be found before the estate can be settled. The view into Stone's business empire--he owned numerous companies involved in the manufacture of arms and ships--is interesting, but the journalist character is a bit thin.

The second section picked up considerably--for a fourth star? Here we move backwards in time to Paris in the 1890s, and another young man who works as a kind of freelance proto-spy for Britain. More is revealed about Stone and his widow, and the protagonist of this section is much stronger.

The third section is a wonderfully odd story about an Englishman in Venice in the 1860s. Of course it does not do to give too much away about the end of the book. But this section is as strong as the second and concludes with an avalanche of stunning plot surprises. They may be a bit contrived, but I was willing to play along.

There's a lot going on here, but it all pays off, and this the the kind of book that makes you want to flip right back to the beginning to rediscover all the hints planted earlier in the book.
Profile Image for Danielle.
162 reviews5 followers
May 14, 2012
I grabbed this from the 'New Books' section from the library and then was stuck with it on a flight. Upon my return and 200 pages in I was bored and wished I could abandon it but felt obligated at that point to just keep reading. I don't mind long books but at 594 pages I do expect it to be decent reading. Its current score on Amazon is 4.5/5.0 stars so apparently someone liked it. The whole mystery noir isn't my typical reading genre so maybe that was its first strike but the story was so convoluted I just couldn't get into it. Maybe that's why people liked it...they found genius in the complex, intricate story where I just saw fumbling and words for the sake of words.

A 2-star review from Gail Dohrmann wrote, "Six hundred pages of plot machinations with every device used in popular fiction--mistaken identity, disguises, overnight romance, fascination with wealth and money as inherently good, plot misdirection, cliche characters like the prostitute of great substance, dabbling in the occult, sexual abuse, fashionable clothes, blackmail, ghosts, insanity, exotic locations, love at first sight, justifiable murder, secrets in diaries--for me do not add up to very much, except absurdity."

It almost sounds good, right? Ha, I suggest skipping this one.
Profile Image for Matt Brady.
199 reviews111 followers
May 8, 2015
Goddammit, this is twice now that Iain Pears has done this to me. I get maybe a quarter to a third of the way into his book and start thinking "This is ok, but I'm starting to lose interest. I'm not sure if I want to read much more of this story." But then it turns out the story isn't what you think it is. And it isn't just some cheap twist either, but more that the characters, just like the reader, simply don't have the total picture and make assumptions, mistakes, interpretations that the next section of the book then proceeds to dismantle, all while managing to tell one overarching story. He also pulls off these direction changes without rendering previous sections irrelevant - exactly the opposite in fact. It's like each part of the book is like a puzzle that you piece together, and then when you finish it turns out the completed puzzle is just in itself one piece of a larger puzzle. And by the end he even manages to tie it all back into the original, seemingly long abandoned, premise of the plot itself in a totally unexpected and devastating way.

The basic setup seems simple enough. London, 1909, and a wealthy industrialist called John Stone, all but unknown to the public but a legend in the world of finance, seemingly trips and falls to his death. His sizeable estate cannot be settled until an unexpected part of his will is satisfied - that Stone's previously unknown long-lost child is found and given a substantial chunk of change. So Stone's executors hire an investigative reporter to accomplish this task, and the intrepid hero sets off to uncover the secrets of John Stone's life. This summary barely scratches the surface, though, and really doesn't give the book anywhere near the credit it deserves. There's early 20th century geopolitics, espionage, sabotage, a love story, spooky mysticism, assassination plots, and as an icing on the cake, a fairly vicious critique of unchecked capitalism.
913 reviews389 followers
February 6, 2013
Solid four-star read. Really and truly.

I hesitate to use the word Dickensian because I was never a Dickens fan, but that's the word that comes to mind for me and I do mean it in a positive way. A long, twisty narrative full of larger-than-life characters who are intertwined in all sorts of unexpected ways -- I can only compare it to Dickens. But where Dickens wrote like he was paid by the word, this book -- though arguably too long -- never felt tedious. Or usually didn't, anyway. I wasn't always engaged by the financial and business aspects of the storyline (though I did appreciate their appeal for someone more fascinated by that stuff than this reader), but that didn't stop me from eagerly devouring all 600-odd pages. I found myself fascinated by the characters and plot twists despite my needing to suspend disbelief at times. And I loved the way the story was told backwards, heightening the suspense and drama of the gradual revelations.

Aaahh. It was a long haul, admittedly, but I'm actually a bit sorry it's over. The next book has a tough act to follow.
Profile Image for Laura.
742 reviews266 followers
July 20, 2016
4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this book, my first by Iain Pears. I love his humor, and that he writes with depth. Don't plan to fly through this one. It takes patience and I found myself having to reread parts, or just wanting to reread to get a better flavor for the story, or to laugh again at a funny line.

I love the way the author decided to tell this story. He starts in the present after a mysterious death has occurred, and then part two goes back in time after a change in narrator. Part three goes back even further, after yet another change in the narration. It was a little confusing at times, but I trusted my pilot at that point, and held on to my armrests and kept going forward. It was a little odd, wanting to keep the pages flying while at the same time not wanting to miss a crucial clue! Sometimes a couple of words can make the difference.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, and the sarcastic humor was a big plus for me. Definitely something to chew on, but not so much that it felt like assigned reading either. I will say that it helps to have a financial or economics background, but I don't think it's necessary at all. Just be aware that there will be sections that require a little more time and patience.

I thought he conveyed the setting so well. As I said, it shifts in terms of both time and place as you progress through the book, but it all felt very real to me. Venice, which was the setting for part three, even felt like another character to me, he described it so vividly.

Audio performance was also terrific. John Lee and Simon Vance are two of my favorite narrators, and Roy Dotrice is also very, very good. I couldn't have asked for more from the audio performance.

The book loses half a star because it was a little long in places. I did think the payoff, however, was worthwhile, as I didn't even come close to expecting the big twist at the end. I think he did a great job creating doubt and confusion so that the reader imagines this is the answer, no it's this, and so on.

This book is going on my favorite authors shelf and I will happily read anything by Iain Pears. British crime/suspense authors are tailor made for me, and the historical fiction piece added in made this a very satisfying read.

Profile Image for Jane.
820 reviews610 followers
December 3, 2009
The central question is simple: How and why did the wealthy and powerful industrialist John Stone come to fall to his death from the window of his London home? The answer is anything but.

First there is a prologue, set in Paris in 1953. Two men meet after a funeral. It is short and simple but it sets the tone beautifully and provides a firm basis that will hold together what is to come.

And then the story travels back in time: to London in 1909, to Paris in 1890 and finally to Venice in 1967.

In 1909 John Stone is dead, in 1890 he features in another man’s story, and in 1867 he tells his own story. Three engaging and distinctive narrators.

Stories told backwards rarely work for me, but this one did. The plotting is so well executed, with all of the twists and turns rooted in the history of the characters.

What wonderful characters! Wonderfully observed and utterly intriguing. Settings too, vividly evoked. This is definitely one of those books where you can hear the voices and see the scenes in your head.

There is much going on: financial, industrial and political intrigue; mysteries and investigations; and a striking love story. It all works together beautifully.

And all of this in lovely, cool, clear prose.

For most of its pages “Stone’s Fall” is a story for the intellect, but at key points the emotions were perfectly pitched, and they hit hard.

The story was long and involved, but it held on to me right up to a startling conclusion that shifted my perceptions and made me rethink many elements of what had come before.

Am impressive achievement.

Profile Image for The.Saved.Reader.
397 reviews77 followers
June 1, 2012
This book was really hard for me to stick with. It's told in a way that is mostly back story and I found myself thinking can we please just get to the point. Unfortunately the point does not come until the end, but it will shock you. I found myself exclaiming, "oh my god!"

The story is centered around the life of John Stone who falls to his death from his library window. In his will, he indicates he has an unacknowledged child that his fortune should go to, but no one has ever heard about this child before. His widow, Elizabeth, hires a investigative journalist to seek out this child, but the venture is unsuccessful.

Many years later, at Elizabeth's funeral, the investigative reporter hired to find the missing child is forwarded a sort of memoir of John Stone's life and ultimately, the true identity of the unacknowledged child as well as the circumstances of John Stone's death.

As with, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier I felt some degree of frustration with the lengthy story that seemed to have little purpose, but the end sealed the deal for me. OMG!
Profile Image for Judy.
705 reviews10 followers
June 12, 2010
This is one of those books you need to read rather than listen to. The best thing about it is the three-part complex plot, which doesn't lend itself to the audio version (at least for me).

The book begins with the narrator attending the funeral of a woman he once knew and may have been in love with, then flashes back to the death of her older, wealthy husband 50 years before from a fall from a window in 1909 in London. The wife hires the narrator to track down an unknown child named in her husband's will, and while doing so he discovers that the husband's wealth looks much better on paper than it really is, but meanwhile he is falling in love with the widow.

Part two goes back in time rather than forward and has a new narrator, a man who knew the hapless widow in her younger days in Paris in 1890. Part three goes yet further back to the dead husband's first marriage in Venice in 1867 and is narrated by him.

New revelations along the way complicate the plot and make the listener want to go back and review some earlier (but happening later) events for clarity. Better read this one.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,668 reviews12.8k followers
September 17, 2012
Pears presents a very interesting, yet somewhat complex, story that surrounds the mystery of a man who has fallen from his window. Set in the early 20th century, the story revolves around a journalist-go-sleuth, who tries to concoct the truth behind the crime, after being given leads by the distraught wife. However, this is only one of the three sides to the larger story. Pears takes the reader through three stories, all resolving around the same characters, told in different times. These three different stories draw pieces from the other two to give the largest and most complete story of all. I told you it was complex.

Pears seems to be a master of this trade, having used the multiple viewpoints in other novels (and layered it with multiple eras as well). The story develops nicely as we learn things that, had the story been told in chronological order, would be less effective and not as powerful. That said, Pears grips the writer's attention from the get go. If I could offer a critique, it would be that I felt things got bogged down in some areas; in description, narration, and detail.

Kudos, Mr. Pears! An excellent piece of work.
Profile Image for jillian.
123 reviews4 followers
February 27, 2010
This book was brilliantly put together - a series of cogs and wheels and moving parts that only come together as the three parts are read. As we go backwards in time, to see John Stone's rise, we are taken through the pieces of his life which caused his fall. The story was riveting, and the narrative voices compelling, as the story explains the love affair between Stone and his wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth's dramatic history is revealed piece by piece, as it dovetails with her husbands, and the two of them move in a world of finance, intrigue, spies, and national security. In the years leading up to the First World War, Stone was a key player - but how did he get there, and why, when he was poised to be one of the most powerful men in the British Empire, would he suddenly fall out of a window in his own home, killing himself in the process? The book peels back layer after layer of story and time as it takes us from London to France to Venice...and unravels two lives so twisted that the standard chronological progression couldn't have done them justice.
Profile Image for Jennie.
585 reviews38 followers
October 28, 2011
This book started out interestingly enough: wealthy financier dies from a fall out a window, young journalist hired to locate the missing, unknown-to-the-widow, child who receives a hefty bequest in the will. Journalist digs up more questions than answers, and we're left to wonder if the financier was a saint or a devil.

I made it through the first part easily enough. The young journalist and his fascination with the widow kind of made me want to punch him, but I was interested in his story. The wrapup was a huge letdown for me, and I'm still not sure what happened. I'm even less sure that I care.

I started the second part (narrated by a spy with a different perspective on the story), and here's where I got bogged down: there is way too much talk about money (yawn) and Big Finance and I got very bored very quickly. Pears also isn't very good at changing voice when he changes narration (something I noticed in An Instance of the Fingerpost), so I kept forgetting we weren't with some youngster anymore. There just doesn't seem to be much point.

I think I'm about halfway through it, and it's getting tossed back on the pile for now. I thought I'd take a break by reading a different book, but I'm working on my sixth "break" book now and it's looking a lot more like abandonment. Meh - I'm in no hurry to get back to it, especially after reading a couple of other books that I devoured in 2-3 sittings because I couldn't put them down. Maybe some day....

(Updated 11/14/2011): I found a spoiler online and read it to see how the book ends. I wanted to know if the "surprise" ending I'd been hearing about was worth plowing through the rest of the book, and after reading that spoiler I have to say no. No. No. Nononononononono. Heeelllll no. No!

Into the Goodwill pile with ye, blasted annoying story!
Profile Image for Kathy.
3,302 reviews175 followers
June 30, 2016
A really great but very long book that is something of a project to read. At one point I became somewhat impatient and slightly bored, but I carried on reading. I am so glad I did. This is made up of parts or one could almost say eyewitness accounts that give very different accounts. Thus...if you do set out to enjoy this book take it slowly and pay attention to the names and details. All will be unveiled in the last eyewitness account. I came to this book rather late as I have not read this author before and had not heard of the book. It was probably given great attention around the time of our bank crises. The book contains a great deal of talk about banks, finance, incentives from industrial types, etc. I do think some portion of the reading public would not find this interesting, but I am familiar with the topic and quite enjoyed it. Part One starts off in 1953 and we meet a young journalist who is inexperienced but up for something new. He is likable and the reader becomes invested in whether he will succeed in his new assignment. Part Two gives us another view, and here the going gets a bit less credulous as the reader wonders how governments and banks could be so vulnerable and how one unknown player could broker agreement to prevent a run on the Bank of England. Part Three brings everything into focus and even adds some humour. You do have to read until 91% completion before a very funny account is given of testing a torpedo in Vienna's lagoon soon followed up by one entertaining conversation with the mysterious man seen in Vienna who believes himself to be Casanova. When book is finally completed it is a very satisfying feeling and finish. I had not guessed the solution to underlying mystery earlier in the book. All the better!
Profile Image for Isabelle.
245 reviews53 followers
June 17, 2010
Another stellar novel by Iain Pears! He certainly knows how it is done, no doubt about it...
Who knew the world of high finance could be that thrilling? We all know it is a world of intrigue, treachery, egomania and tragic flaws, but in the hands of Iain Pears, it takes on epic proportions and becomes a terrain where all human foibles run free.
As always, a very brilliant construction full of surprises and several voices, each one more convincing than the previous one.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,242 reviews383 followers
June 11, 2021
Read 366 pages but I've decided to DNF this as it just didn't grab my attention or was that enjoyable to read.
Profile Image for Kay Rollison.
28 reviews4 followers
June 4, 2011
I picked up this book not knowing anything about the work of Iain Pears, but it seems he is well known as a writer of historical mysteries, as well a series about an art historian/detective which draws on his own professional background. This one, published in 2009, is about the life of a fictional nineteenth century arms manufacturer who has some things in common with the real life armaments king Basil Zaharoff, and which deals with some real events, in particular the financial ‘panic’ of 1890.

The story is told by three narrators in three parts set in 1909, 1890 and 1869; in other words, the reader learns the story backwards. The book opens in 1953 when Matthew Braddock, a BBC reporter approaching retirement, attends the funeral of an old woman, Elizabeth Robillard, in Paris, and learns of a package of papers left to him by Henry Cort, a British intelligence agent, to be opened after her death. He then tells the story of his own involvement with Elizabeth many years before when he was hired ostensibly to write the biography of her late husband, John Stone, but in reality to search for an unknown child mentioned in his will. This is followed by the contents of the package, one set of papers outlining the involvement of Henry Cort with Elizabeth before she married Stone, the second being an account by John Stone of a period of time spent in Venice before he became a successful industrialist and armaments manufacturer.

The structure of the book makes for an intriguing story, as much is hidden from all the narrators, and while there are hints about the connections between events and people, these are not to be trusted as characters often draw what turn out to be wrong conclusions. The truth, of course, comes out in the end, and while I did eventually guess what was coming, it took me quite a while. The denouement does involve a fair degree of coincidence, but I think Pears probably just gets away with it. I did need to go back and check on some details as doing things backwards makes it even harder than usual to recognise what’s going to be important, but this wasn’t really a great problem.

I’m less sure that he gets away with having the three narrators, in the sense that I didn’t find their voices were really distinctive. At least one critic categorically disagrees with me about this – read her review here. The narratives all have a nineteenth century feel to them, but I think this is more subject matter than characterisation. Stone in particular seemed a bit wishy washy for a man who achieved all that is claimed for him.

Certainly the stories reflect in an interesting way some of the preoccupations of late nineteenth and early twentieth century society, such as the primacy of the market, the rise of industrial capitalism, great power rivalry, social Darwinism and the hereditary nature of degeneracy. There’s even a rather strange (and possibly unnecessary?) digression into the supernatural. And at the heart of the story, there is the very Victorian conceit of the beautiful, irresistible woman with a hidden past. But there are times when I think Pears goes too far with the detail. Did the early industrialists, for example, really reflect that companies ‘are designed to multiply capital’ and that everything they do is not merely justified but required by this end? Did we really need a lecture on free market economics? At 600 pages, I think Pears has sometimes been a bit self indulgent.

This is not a thriller, but neither is it a literary novel. It is a mystery in the tradition of Wilkie Collins, and perhaps bears comparison with the two nineteenth century replica novels by Michael Cox –The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time – which I wrote about in an earlier post. This means you probably need to be interested in history, and in the slow working out of events, to enjoy this book.

Read this review at What Book to Read
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
105 reviews6 followers
July 20, 2010
A return to form for Pears, his best since An Instance of the Fingerpost.

John Stone is mysterious as any man of power. Married to a bewitching younger woman with a mysterious past, in charge of one of the first great conglomerates and afflicted with vertigo, he dies by plunging from a window and leaves behind a will leaving vast wealth to a never acknowledged child. His wife hires an impressionable young journalist to find out. His account is followed by two others, stretching back half of Stone's lifetime. To understand his fall, we have to understand his rise...

The thrill of this book is manifold. Pears is a wonderfully evocative writer of times and places (I loved his Île St. Louis). He started in genre fiction and knows how to turn a good plot. He understands expertise, or rather technology, better than any other writer I can think of. And he has the conjuror's art of reversing our expectations: Obvious irrelevancies are exposed as core, lies become truth, victims perpetrators and love something rather different from our expectations.

The only thing that stop this being a 5 star book for me is the occasional jerk into melodrama. I don't think we needed Mrs. Stone dressing up as an anarchist, or the opening funeral, or the rather overused final "secret". But these are specks of dust on the Mona Lisa. This is a great read, and a timely reminder of the foundations of our modern economy.
Profile Image for Bookmarks Magazine.
2,042 reviews716 followers
June 1, 2009

"Think of a subject so dull that no one would possibly think to make a thriller out of it. Now double the length of said thriller. Then add the author Iain Pears—and you've got a weird magic trick on your hands," noted the Times in amazement. Although he introduces complex ideas about global finance and industry, Pears humanizes them through his wholly compelling charactersóengaging, shady, and unreliableóand detailed settings, from anarchist meetings to Parisian salons. Riveting, smart, and thoroughly enjoyable, this historical thriller may initially baffle readers, but the mysteries presented in each section do coalesce. A few critics complained of cliches, esoteric concepts, and the book's length, but the Seattle Times summed up sentiment: "The heft may be daunting, but this erudite tour de force is more than worth the time invested."

This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

Profile Image for Geza Tatrallyay.
Author 17 books283 followers
November 21, 2018
Great book. Very relevant today when "financial" war is very possible. Well-researched, well-written, a gripping tale of what might have happened earlier in the century. Highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Lyn Elliott.
680 reviews175 followers
March 13, 2022
Iain Pears know how to tell story to keep you engaged and reading, and I did read this in a couple of days wanting to find out what happened.

But the division into three time frames didnt work for me - I had forgotten most of the first section by the time I reached the third; there's a lot of unnecessary padding and the ending is meh.
Profile Image for Simon Mcleish.
Author 3 books119 followers
March 16, 2013
Originally published on my blog here in February 2011.

Iain Pears has to be one of my favourite crime authors. The magnificent An Instance of the Fingerpost is an incredible historical thriller, with three different solutions to the mystery being presented by different narrators, while the Jonathan Argyll series is an entertaining and amusing romp through the Italian art world. The two are very different sides to Pears' talent, and his newest novel, Stone's Fall is cut from the same cloth as An Instance of the Fingerpost.

Indeed, it uses quite a lot of the same structure. Stone's Fall is divided into three main parts, with a short introduction; they are arranged in reverse historical order. All are concerned with Edwardian financier John Stone, whose death falling from a window prompts his widow to employ a young journalist (Matthew Braddock) to investigate the strange bequest in his will to a child that neither she nor the will's executor knew existed, under the guise of researching an autobiography of Stone. The investigation becomes entangled with the finances of the companies owned by Stone, which are mainly armaments firms, with international politics, and with Braddocks infatuation with Stone's widow. He does eventually find a solution which convinces him, but that is only the end of the first part.

In the second part, we go back thirty years, and the narrator is now Henry Cort, a spy from the first part, now at the beginning of his career in Paris in the years after the Franco-Prussian war. This again involves Stone's (future) wife, and a plot to destabilise the Bank of England by discrediting Barings Bank, one of the biggest Victorian investment banks. This sheds further light on the personalities involved in the first part, and suggests that the convenient solution for Stone's death may not actually be correct. The narrator of the final part is Stone himself, as a young man in Venice in the 1860s; characters include Cort's father. Here we find out the origins of Stone's fortune - Braddock had wondered how someone without the training of an engineer had been able to set up a company to produce a revolutionary torpedo from a design he provided. And, again, new light is shed on Stone's death; he wrote the memoir just before his fall.

I did feel that the re-use of the tripartite structure, with a similar purpose to that in An Instance of the Fingerpost, reduced its impact. On the other hand, Agatha Christie finishes many of her novels with scenes where Poirot confronts the murder suspects as a group, and these scenes are so similar they almost follow the same script as each other (Poirot describes the evidence against someone innocent, they protest, Poirot agrees and skewers the real killer). That is not the case here; Stone's Fall is a very different thriller from An Instance of the Fingerpost, not just because it has a later historical setting. It just seems a repeat because of the striking nature of the concept. While in Pears' earlier novel, it seems as though the use of the device is making the point that it is possible to come up with multiple solutions as convincing as those most crime novels have, here his little reminder to the genre is that the kind of clear cut solution common in murder fiction are not the way that things really are; the truth behind most killings is more complex than just who did what when, and it can be the case that the roots of the death of a man like Stone could run many years back into the past. It is perhaps fair to say that Stone's Fall is concerned with emotional depth, while An Instance of the Fingerpost is about glittering cleverness. But in the end, the earlier novel was always clearly destined to be a classic of the genre, while Stone's Fall is just very good indeed.
Profile Image for John.
Author 287 books161 followers
April 24, 2019
This is the fourth of Pears's five (to date) standalone novels. I haven't read the fifth, Arcadia; of the first four I've thoroughly enjoyed three (An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Dream of Scipio and now Stone's Fall) while being far less entranced by the other ( The Portrait ).

What kicks off Stone's Fall is the death in 1909 of arms trader and industrialist John Stone, a figure unknown to the public but a pillar of international finance. He died through falling from a high window in his London home. The authorities, who mysteriously delayed releasing the news of his death, believe it's a matter of accident or suicide, but the rest of the world naturally suspects murder.

An additional suspicious circumstance is that there's a clause in his will leaving a chunk of money to the love child no one ever knew he had; until that child is identified and located the estate cannot be settled. No wonder Stone's far younger widow, Elizabeth, is keen for the child be found as quickly as possible; what's odd, though, is that she should hire young crime reporter Matthew Braddock -- at a more than handsome salary! -- to do the requisite tracking down. Why not a professional detective?

Stone's Fall, which is of epic length (far longer than the raw page-count might imply because the pages are quite tightly filled), takes the form of not one novel but three, each with a different narrator: a detective/mystery novel, set in 1909 and told by Braddock; an espionage novel, set in 1890 and told by Henry Cort, the (fictional) originator of the UK's professional security services; and a Venice novel, complete with the requisite spooky occurrences, set in 1867 and told by Stone himself. The three are, as you'd expect, intimately entwined and do all serve the same story, which is the unraveling of why Stone plunged to his death; the reverse chronology is somewhat subverted by the fact that Stone is telling his tale shortly before his demise, so we're being supplied also with some details from the "now" of 1909. Not until the final pages are we able to piece together the truth that seemed almost within reach in the opening chapters.

For the most part Pears's telling of the tale is superbly measured, the prose having a lovely rolling, rhythmic, unhurried quality that seems to hark back to the nineteenth century or perhaps to the early, ambitious novels of someone like J.B. Priestley. Every once in a longish while, however, there suddenly appears in the midst of it all a sentence of such ugliness that you want to take it outside and drive a stake through its heart; I can't guess why that was allowed to happen. There's also quite a lot of sloppy proofreading. A couple of examples chosen at random from oodles of others:

And generally, when dealing with Barings [Bank], a refusal was generally taken to indicate a weakness of the bank which refused. [p333]

And, amusingly:

. . . not much progress had been made in installing modern sewage . . . [p251]

Overall, though, the novel's a truly impressive achievement. There's a lot to chew over here about human nature, including the tendency to reconcile the good we have inside us with the evil consequences of what we do, or with the evil we do in order to attain what we believe to be estimable consequences. It's a book for the marathoner rather than the sprinter, and I can imagine some readers becoming impatient with it, but, for me, by the time I reached the end of it I was sufficiently in its thrall that I was wishing it could go on for a hundred or two hundred pages more.
Profile Image for Jim Leffert.
179 reviews8 followers
October 17, 2009
With The Instance of the Fingerpost, Pears created a new kind of masterwork—a historical novel constructed intricately to work like clockwork, which glides sequentially from one subjective narrator to another, so that each section unveils new explanations that upend the previous narrator’s picture of the characters’ motivations and actions . Moreover, this novel draws the reader deep into a historical era’s skullduggery and political and geopolitical machinations. A subsequent novel, The Dream of Scipio, presented three stories, spanning 15 centuries. Continuously inter-cutting from one story to another, that book intertwined the three human dramas as it depicted the political and ideological backdrop of each story and era.

Pears’ latest novel, Stone’s Fall, is as ambitious as An Instance of the Fingerpost. Three sequential sections, each with a different narrator, piece together a story that continues from 1867 until 1910 (the sections are in reverse chronological order). The mystery to be explored (as introduced years later in the early 1950’s) is why British titan of industry John Stone plummeted from the window of his town home 1909. Was it an accident? Suicide? Was he pushed? Stone’s alluring and mysterious widow hires a crime reporter from a London newspaper not to solve this mystery, but rather to tie up a serious loose end that is critical for unblocking the disposition of Stone’s estate. The reporter is seriously mesmerized by the widow (leading me to wonder at times if the book was going to turn out to be a remake of The French Lieutenant’s Woman), but the twists and turns of their relationship merely set off the labyrinthine plot.

As if A Tale of Two Cities was insufficient, Pears gives us three—London, Paris, and Venice--plus side visits to the provinces. The book is a rich brew that includes not only the characters’ personal dramas, but also crises in the British and European financial system (in this respect, the book is a sequel to Levenson’s Newton and the Counterfeiters), industrial and technological history of the late 19th and early 20th century military industrial complex (a la Richard Powers), geopolitical machinations, scandal, skullduggery, and many other ingredients that convey a sense of time and place. At times, the characters go into overdrive in order to advance the intricacies of the plot, and the book offers an improbable ending that left me disappointed, but Stone’s Fall is an absorbing and rewarding read nonetheless.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,268 reviews411 followers
June 6, 2016
I read this at this time because it is included in the listopia London Calling. I found it interesting that the action takes place in three cities: London, Paris and Venice. There are a couple of places where Pears describes London and Paris that were quite good. Following a more detailed description (and I use the term "description" loosely, because the words to me are more active than passive) he says:
Just one street. Multiply it by thousands and you have London, sprawling over the landscape, containing every vice and virtue, every language, every kindness and cruelty. it is incomprehensible, unpredictable and strange. Huge wealth and greater poverty, every disease you could imagine, and every pleasure. It had frightened me when I first arrived; it frightens me now. It is an unnatural place, as far from the Garden of Eden as you could imagine.
And of a neighborhood in Paris:
It is a den of cutthroats and fugitives, perfect for people who need or wish to disappear. The address I was seeking lay right at its heart, past the raddled women standing in the alleyways; past the men with narrow faces and suspicious eyes who watch as you walk by; past the long shadows, and sudden noises of something moving behind you; past the soft laughter that you hear faintly down side alleys.
This is a plot-driven novel that does a better job of characterization than one might expect for a plot-drive novel. In addition to the three locations, there are three time periods: 1909, 1890, 1867, and interestingly, is told in reverse chronological order. Each of these is told in the first person by a different character. All overlaps and is intertwined.

It is a good mystery. About a 100 pages or so from the ending, I had a suspicion about the outcome, but that didn't spoil the story in the least. I'm glad to have read this and will look forward to reading others by this author. Five stars (but only just crosses that threshold), because it combines above average prose, better than expected characterization, and an engaging plot.
Profile Image for Felice.
250 reviews82 followers
August 29, 2010
There have been so many occasions that I have seen or heard a novel described as Dickensian. Do you want to know how often that turns out to be true? Almost nev-ah. Less than almost never even. That's very disappointing. So sad. Charles Dickens is my favorite, favorite, favorite author. I heart all the Victorians but Charles is my desert island author. I try to be a big girl about it and move on but then --cue the angelic choir-- goodness gets its reward and suddenly there it is the truly Dickensian novel in your lap. It's Stone's Fall by Iain Pears.

Stone's Fall is exactly what the title alludes to and then much more. It's the story of John Stone's demise. Stone is a wildly successful financier, arms dealer and economy manipulator who dies in a fall from a London window. Murder? Suicide? Revenge? The story of Stone begins in the 1860's and continues through the early years of the twentieth century. Reading about that time frame alone is worth the price of admission because as The Instance of the Fingerpost proved there is not a better re-creator of place and time in historical fiction that Iain Pears.

The mystery surrounding Stone's death is the heart of the novel but it is by no means the only interesting element here. The complex and intricate plot encompasses countless, fluctuating in their importance characters and moves forward and backward in a Citizen Kane style with the many witnesses to Stone's life telling their stories and offering up their opinions. We get the glorious pleasure of sorting it all out. All of that is supported by Pears commanding ability to not only juggle this all but to keep the story accurate to the time and sublimely entertaining over all 608 pages.

Any Victorian writer would be proud to call Stone's Fall their own. There is wall to wall skulduggery, a serpentine plot fueled by characters that encompass all levels of society, cliffhangers galore and superior writing skills. Read Stone's Fall and wallow in the brilliance.
Profile Image for Tasha .
1,010 reviews37 followers
January 21, 2014
Wow, this book took me on a weird ride. It started off engaging me from the beginning but throughout I had periods of losing interest with it's convoluted schemes and then it would pick up again and just shine. Sort of like being on a roller coaster, up and down, up and down. The writing is very good except for times (many times) when the author writes "very much more" which drove me mad. The characters were hard for me to follow, not sure if it was just me being dense or what, but if I had not been reading this with a buddy, I think I would have given up by the time I got to Part 3 (I actually had a desire to throw this book across the room at one point!). Once she helped clear the persons up for me (thanks, Laura), it took off again and I had a hard time putting it down until I closed the book. The ending wowed me and put this book back up in the 4 star range. If I was to recommend this one I would give this advice: keep close tabs on all the characters from the beginning. Take notes on the characters. Seriously, it frustrated me to no end not realizing who was who until it was cleared up for me. The book ranged from 2 to 4 stars throughout with ultimately it ending up a 4.
Profile Image for Megan L (Iwanttoreadallthebooks).
796 reviews38 followers
September 2, 2019
Iain Pears is a brilliant writer, having read some of his other books. However, Stone's Fall could have used some serious editing because at almost 600 pages, it was unnecessarily long. I liked that the author went backward in time and the story was told from more than one narrator. But certain parts of the story moved very slowly and did not help to develop the plot. A compelling story that, if it had been trimmed down, would have gotten a higher rating from me.

3 stars.
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