A British civil servant joins his friend’s impossible quest to solve one of history’s most perplexing murder mysteries.
A dizzying array of locales enlivens this ever-polite but extremely engaging thriller from British novelist Goddard (Long Time Coming, 2010, etc). The essential question of the book asks: How far would you go for an old friend? In this case, the conflicted man is Richard Eusden, an aging bureaucrat in the Foreign Office whose weariness with life belies his willingness to help those in need. One morning, Richard is overcome by Gemma Conway, his ex-wife. Gemma wants Richard to help her other ex-husband, Marty Hewitson, his best friend from nearly 40 years ago. These two complete the great triangle of the man’s life. “Marty Hewitson was the best and closest friend he would ever have,” Goddard writes. “And he would never love another woman as he had loved Gemma Conway. Those were the facts of his life. He could not alter them. He could not wish them away. Even if he wanted to. Which of course he did not.” Richard anxiously accedes to Gemma’s request to escort a mysterious briefcase to Brussels. But when he disembarks, a man named Werner Straub shows Richard pictures of Marty, bound, gagged and imprisoned in the city. After giving up the briefcase, Richard frees Marty, who turns out to be eccentric, acerbic and dying of a brain tumor. Together, this odd couple sets off to find the briefcase. It’s tied to the famous real-life court case involving Anna Anderson, the German mental patient who claimed to be the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia.
Masterful writing and a hot pursuit across Europe elevate this novel. Men in gray flannel suits haven’t been this exciting in quite some time.