July 4 2013
1919. The eyes of the world are on Paris, where statesmen, diplomats and politicians have gathered to discuss the fate of half the world’s nations in the aftermath of the cataclysm that was the Great War. A horde of journalists, spies and opportunists have also gathered in the city and the last thing the British diplomatic community needs at such a time is the mysterious death of a senior member of their delegation. So, when Sir Henry Maxted falls from the roof of his mistress’s apartment building in unexplained circumstances, their first instinct is to suppress all suspicious aspects of the event.
But Sir Henry’s son, ex Royal Flying Corps ace James ‘Max’ Maxted, has other ideas. He resolves to find out how and why his father died – even if this means disturbing the impression of harmonious calm which the negotiating teams have worked so hard to maintain. In a city where countries are jostling for position at the crossroads of history and the stakes could hardly be higher, it is difficult to tell who is a friend and who a foe. And Max will soon discover just how much he needs friends, as his search for the truth sucks him into the dark heart of a seemingly impenetrable mystery.
It is the spring of 1919, and in the aftermath of the Great War, delegations meet in Paris to determine the outcome of the peace process. Sir Henry Maxted, a British diplomat, who has come out of retirement for the conference, falls to his death from an apartment in a salubrious part of the city. When Henry’s sons, Ashley and James arrive in Paris, to determine the truth about their father’s unexpected death, they are met with bureaucratic indifference, which creates a series of unanswerable questions. Determined to get to the cause of his fathers’ death, James ‘Max’ Maxted stays on in Paris, and is determined to leave no stone unturned in his quest for the truth.
After an initial slow start, the book starts to gain momentum about a third of the way through, when the narrative seems to take on more energy and becomes more focused. What then follows is a cleverly constructed espionage novel, which takes in, not just the whole conniving world of intelligence and counter intelligence, but also the slightly risqué and decadent Paris of the early 1900s. There is no doubt that Robert Goddard is the master of this type of historical narrative, he carefully blends factual history alongside fictional situations in such a seamless way that you actually believe that you are walking the same streets, and drinking in the same bars and cafes. Max is a worthy narrator, brave, pragmatic and with a degree of stubbornness which no doubt hails from his time as a fighter ace during the bombing campaigns of WW1. His drive and ambition are exemplary, and yet it is his tenacity in the face of extreme danger which gives the book its core strength.
Overall, I thought the book was well written and found that it delivered enough convoluted threats , double crosses and triple twists, to keep me entertained until the very end.
My thanks to Transworld/ Bantam Press for my review copy of this book.
I read this book as part of the Historical Reading Challenge 2013