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A treasure of a read
on 4 March 2009
Geoffrey Staddon is a failing architect, a man who seems consumed by emotional ennui and lack of purpose. His present is dissolving around him - a failing career, a failed marriage, a frustrated and moribund life. He lives in the past - the past glory of the finest building he's ever built, the haunting memories of past failure in the only real love he has known. The trial of the glamorous, exotic Consuela Caswell brings this all back to him and changes his life forever.
Robert Goddard is a fine story teller - one of the finest around. This is probably one of his best. It is un-put-down-able. Goddard weaves together a tale of murder and romance which is utterly compelling. He does not go in for heroic action heroes - they are more likely ageing, balding, corpulent, a bit uncertain and lacking in confidence. But Geoffrey Staddon grows into the role of romantic hero, exposing his sense of guilt and loss of honour (the book was released in the US under the title of "Debt of Dishonor").
Goddard writes historical drama - this one is set in the post-War world of the 1920's and the uncertainties of the 1930's, it hints at the loss of innocence England suffered on the Western Front and the bleak prospects before it in the years before the next war. The characterisation - of Staddon, of his first love, and of the house he built, is outstanding, the sense of time and times past is utterly convincing. The story is slow-paced but electric in its compulsion - a masterclass in narrative construction and writing skill. Goddard is an outstanding wordsmith. His writing style is intelligent, economical, and wonderfully seductive - he leads you into a story, into the world of the story, and makes you at home within it.
Published in 1991, this was Goddard's fifth novel (following "Into the Blue"). Yet again, he demonstrates his rare ability to weave a tale across time, to take a twelve year span and make it wholly relevant to the plot of the novel. Goddard handles time better than any other writer. He uses it to give depth and gravitas to the characters and narratives he constructs so convincingly. He is a very English writer - he possibly doesn't cross the Atlantic as well as some, the implicit 'cosiness' of his mysteries concealing the dark undercurrents and Goddard's incisive dissection of the English world and character; his plots are intelligent and beautifully sketched in sepia and charcoal rather than projected as visceral, Technicolor displays.
An absolutely first-class work and an absorbing read.