Review of “Stone’s Fall” by Iain Pears

Note: There are no spoilers in this review.

This book has gotten quite a few 5/5 ratings by other bloggers. Thus I hesitate to say that I was not as much taken with this book. It does have a number of twists, but I don’t think Pears rendered them as skillfully as some other authors. Likewise, his evocation of the pre-war mood in Europe did not seem very sophisticated. While I didn’t totally dislike it, I am not disposed to rave about it.

A mystery is spun for us out of the question of why John Stone, the First (and last) Baron Ravenscliff, fell or was pushed from the window of his home in London in 1909. John Stone was a financial genius who had vast holdings in a number of industries and banks closely tied to war and diplomacy. The extent of his power could only be guessed at, and his estate was rumored to be huge. Moreover, he had a fear of heights and never went near windows.

To get the bottom of this enigma, the story moves backwards in time, revealing more and more with each different perspective offered, until in the last few pages, the mystery is finally solved.

Ordinarily, getting there should be most of the fun, but for me, in the case of this book, it was not.

The story in Part One is told by Matthew Broddick, a young and inconsequential reporter inexplicably chosen by the widow Lady Catherine Ravenscliff to investigate some perplexing bequests in her late husband’s will. Broddick finds he has to learn a great deal about finances even to ask the right questions. We, the readers, get tutored as well. In addition, Pears attempts to draw us into the Edwardian Era in London, but after discovering how an author like Sarah Waters could bring the Victorian Era alive, the effort by Pears seems like a careless afterthought.

In Part Two, we go back to 1890 to hear from Henry Cort, an enigmatic and powerful agent of Special Services (i.e., government spy) who seems to have a history with both Stone and his wife. The book starts to get more interesting here, as we get to know the Baron and Lady Ravenscliff more intimately.

In Part Three, we hear from John Stone himself, in 1867 Venice. This should be the best part, and in a way it is, because much becomes clear, but in a more important sense, it is not. In order to work out his plot twists, Pears renders Stone as a man who is incredibly naïve and gulled easily by all sorts of people. Unfortunately this is totally at odds with his reputation for an unparalleled ability to see through and understand people. Moreover, Pears runs on interminably about Venice and the people who live there – to draw out the suspense, perhaps? Since we are well past page 400 by the point that Part Three starts, I hardly think that an adequate justification. The only good thing about the author’s nattering on about the decay of Venice is that he is no longer nattering on about the allure of Lady Ravenscliff, which he could have mentioned at least a hundred fewer times.

And when the mystery is solved? Yes, it’s a complete surprise, but it’s pretty bizarre and unlikely for a number of reasons (primarily because I cannot believe the person who discovered it would have been able to do so).

Evaluation: Edit, edit, edit! Please! Even if shortened, I was not so impressed with the writing. For drawing us into a past way of life, he is no Sarah Waters. For discussing the politics and economics of “the winds of war,” he is no Herman Wouk. For an investigation into a financial dynasty, he is no Stieg Larsson. For maintaining suspense, he’s too dilatory. At least 200 pages could have been pared (so to speak) off of this Pears.

However, bloggers whose opinions I highly respect have loved this book.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Spiegel & Grau, 2009

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18 Responses to Review of “Stone’s Fall” by Iain Pears

  1. Sandy says:

    Ack! Well, I know I was one of those bloggers that raved. I feel bad you did not love it. I agree it was LOOOOONG (took me weeks to read it), but the journey was interesting and the ending blew me away. To the point where (believe it or not) I wanted to go back and read it again. Will you ever trust me again?????

  2. Julie P. says:

    Sometimes the length of a book can almost ruin it for me. I just read one that was way too long. I think quite a few books would be better if they were more concise!

    Great review and you definitely supported your thoughts!

  3. Jenny says:

    Darn it! I was planning to get this for my birthday and read it on a long car trip, or a plane ride, or something, and I was thinking it would be a lot like Sarah Waters. Sad.

  4. ds says:

    Interesting. Will bear your objections in mind if I see the book…

  5. Margot says:

    I really like it when you read a book that makes you mad. It’s just so much fun to read your review. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of your book reviews, but it’s just more fun to read about the bad ones. I’m not wishing a life of bad books on you. I wouldn’t do that to you, but I’m just saying . . . Okay, enough said.

  6. Nymeth says:

    What a pity – I love this time period as well as a good twist, but it definitely has to be well done.

  7. Marie says:

    Oh well- on to the next book, I guess! 🙂

  8. bermudaonion says:

    I have seen a lot of raves about this book from bloggers I trust, but I also trust you! I’m not big on long-winded books, so I have a feeling I’ll fall somewhere in the middle.

  9. caite says:

    I haven’t read this one yet…I must say the heft of it is discouraging.
    But I know what you mean about the ‘edit..edit’, since I said the same thing in a review of another book recently. My dear beloved Authors…you ain’t writing War and Peace here!
    You would thing they were getting paid by the word and an editor never looked at it. I fear the second, in our cost cutting world, may have a certain amount of truth to it.

  10. diane says:

    Guess this is one that we need to try for ourselves and decide. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  11. farmlanebooks says:

    I was one of people who LOVED this book. It was long, but I loved every page, continually wondering what would happen. I found the historical detail fascinating and the ending just blew me away. Sorry to hear that you didn’t love it, but thanks for giving it a try.

  12. Darlene says:

    Sorry you didn’t like it all that much Jill. It’s frustrating when a book is drawn out and it’s unnecessary. I have this one in my pile somewhere. I’ll still give it a read one of these days.

  13. Alyce says:

    I loved this book too, but have seen a few other reviews from those who had opinions similar to yours. I felt the same way as Sandy – that I wanted to read it again. I almost didn’t add it to my bookshelf cleaning giveaway a few months ago because I liked it so much. 🙂 I guess it’s just one of those things where books strike people differently.

  14. stacybuckeye says:

    This has been on my wish list forever, but the length has to be worth it!

  15. Michele says:

    I think the hardest books to review are the ones that aren’t stellar, but aren’t awful either. You did a lovely job conveying what you did and didn’t like here and I always appreciate that in a reviewer….thanks!

  16. Thanks for the honest assessment. I’ve read a few new books this year that could have been a lot shorter. I wonder why the editors aren’t catching all the unnecessary stuff? I don’t know much about the inner workings of the publishing industry, though.


  17. Lisa says:

    Yet another book that would have greatly benefited from judicious editing. Do you think that once you’re a well-known author, you’re allowed to get away with more? I rarely read a 600 page book by a first time author.

  18. Jenners says:

    DAMN! I respect your opinion so now I’m not as excited to read this as I was. The set-up just sounds so cool though. I guess I’ll have to see what I think, I guess. : )

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