I will admit, I struggled through Iain Pears' labyrinthine, 700+ page mystery, An Instance of the Fingerpost, when I read it back in the day. It weighs in at over 700 pages, tells the story of a murder from 4 differing perspectives, and while it took me forever to get through, I realized afterward that I love books with narrative structure like that, which ultimately lead me to authors like David Mitchell and Orhan Pamuk. That said, Pears has returned with a similarly structured new novel, Stone's Fall, which encompasses the life of a wealthy turn-of-the-century industrialist named John Stone. When Stone dies under mysterious circumstances in 1909, (did he fall out the window, jump out the window, or was he pushed out the window?) a young reporter begins to dig into Stone's life, not entirely sure what he is unearthing or who is pulling his strings. When the enigmatic Henry Cort directs him to pre-WWI spygames in Paris 1890 and Venetian industrial espionage in 1867, this incredible onion of a novel begins to gradually unfold.
Pears expertly keeps the storyline unfolding backwards in time, until all preconceived notions we may have about the characters (established chapter to chapter) are sufficiently pummelled into submission and reworked. In each section, the reader emerges with a completely new perception of what Stone was really like, as well as what the motives and ambitions of the people he surrounded himself with really were. Great reading for fans of historical fiction (not the romancy type, more meaty like Neal Stephenson or James Clavell), historical mysteries (such as Caleb Carr or John Dunning) or even Iain Pears himself. Well worth the time investment, a fascinating, meticulously researched, multi-layered masterpiece. Leaving you asking, who was John Stone, really?