A former Royal Flying Corps pilot investigates his father’s murder in Paris on the eve of the Treaty of Versailles.
The prolific Goddard (Fault Line, 2012, etc.) offers a slow burn here as he begins a new trilogy. He's still producing the riffs on historical crime fiction that are his sweet spot, but his new book’s absorbing language and artful depictions of physical locations, along with a plot that falls somewhere between Georges Simenon and Graham Greene, should keep readers rapt. Set in 1919, the novel introduces James “Max” Maxted, a 27-year-old R.F.C. pilot who has seen enough carnage to last a lifetime after two years on the western front and another year as a prisoner of war. He just wants to set up a small flight school with his best friend and top mechanic, Sam Twentyman. His plans go awry when his father, a minor British diplomat, is killed in what seems like an accident in Paris. Max’s posh older brother, Ashley, inherits the family’s estate, but he’s embarrassed by Max’s business ambitions and his assertion that their father's death wasn't an accident. Arriving in Paris, Max encounters a rogue’s gallery of suspicious characters amid the postwar forging of a peace treaty, among them femmes fatales of various nationalities, an American fixer named Travis Ireton, and an omnipresent German operative named Fritz Lemmer, whose narrative momentum carries readers all the way to the edge of the book and down through a dastardly cliffhanger. It’s an atmospheric thriller yet in some ways a gentle one; its enormous cast of characters, antiquated tradecraft, and societal diplomacy may remind readers as much of Downton Abbey as John le Carré.
A sly, highbrow take on the espionage thriller with a rich background that lends sophistication to an already opulent story.