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Fault line: book review

4 August 2012

Fault LineFault Line by Robert Goddard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good story well told.

I suppose one could say much the same about most of Robert Goddard‘s books. He has written more than twenty novels in the same genre, and with very few exceptions each one is as good as the last. And the exceptions are generally those where Goddard breaks from the formula, which he seems to have perfected – a mystery in the past which affects characters in the present.

The story is about a family firm, Walter Wren & Co., that mines china clay in St Austell, Cornwall. It is merged with a bigger firm, and after several more mergers has become part of a large international conclomerate. The former CEO of the company, Greville Lashley, who is still the majority shareholder, commissions a historian to write the history of the company, but she finds that several crucial files are missing, and Jonathan Kellaway, who had worked at Wren’s as a student, before it was absorbed, is asked to help locate the missing files.

Back in the 1960s, when Jonathan was a student doing a vac job, he had become friendly with two of the children of the Wren family, Oliver and Vivien Foster, and Oliver is convinced that there was a mystery hidden in the company records, a mystery that had led to his father’s death. Oliver got Jonathan to help him with some of his investigations, but never revealed exactly what he was looking for, and now, more than forty years later, Jonathan is asked to find the missing files, which may solve Oliver’s mystery, and others that have plagued the Wren family ever since.

I found the story particularly interesting because I had just finished reading another book of the same genre, The Absolutist by John Boyne which was almost painfully badly written, with glaring anachonisms on every other page (see my review here). As a result, I think I read Fault Line rather more critically than usual, and enjoyed the contrast: it was as well written as the other was badly written. I was on the lookout for anachronisms, more than usual, and spotted only possible one — that there was no Metro Station at the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1969. According to Wikipedia, that station only opened in 1980. Perhaps if I were a publisher’s fiction editor, I might have spotted more errors, but if there were others, I didn’t notice them. The anachronisms in The Absolutist didn’t just stick out like sore thumbs, they stuck out like undressed amputated limb stumps.

When Robart Goddard describes the 1960s, it feels authentic. OK, he no doubt lived through the period, as did I, so he would have a better feeling for it than John Boyne would have for the period of the First World War, but still… Reading some of the scenes in Fault Line brought snatches of songs from the sixties to mind:

… making love in the afternoon
with Cecelia up in my bedroom[1]

and

We passed that summer lost in love beneath the lemon tree
the music of her laughter hid my father’s words from me

Lemon tree very pretty
and the lemon flower is sweet
but the fruit of the poor lemon
is impossible to eat[2]

Another thing that made the book interesting to me is that I am interested in family history, and this is something of a family saga, a telling of the story of the family by someone outside, who knew nevertheless knew some members of the family well. Also, one branch of my own family came from Cornwall, and some of them were china clay labourers in and around St Austell in the 1870s and 1880s, so the descriptions of the china clar mining industry and its place in the town are quite interesting too.
___
Notes

[1] “Cecelia”, sung by Simon & Garfunkel
[2] “Lemon tree”, sung by Peter, Paul & Mary

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