1910: Distinguished MP Edwin Strafford resigns at the pinnacle of his career, removing himself from the public eye. The woman he loves, and for whom he was willing to sacrifice everything, suddenly and coldly rejects him. All the reasons for his fall from grace are shrouded in darkness.
Seventy years later, historian Martin Radford is down on his luck when a mysterious benefactor offers him the opportunity of a lifetime: to uncover what exactly happened to Edwin Strafford. But his apparent good fortune swiftly turns into a nightmare. Radford’s investigations trigger a violent series of events, which throw him straight into the path of those who believed they had escaped punishment for crimes long past but never paid for…
Past Caring is my third and final book in the Great Transworld Crime Caper. The previous two books were easy picks, because I knew when I saw the subjects I definitely wanted to read those. The last book though was a tough choice, mostly because there were some amazing sounding books to choose from. In the end I picked Robert Goddard’s book because it had a historical slant to it. And it turned out to be a good choice. The book is a fat novel, clocking in at 623 pages, but I had a hard time putting the novel down and letting go of the story, when I had to do other stuff.
The setting and concept are interesting. I always love a story within a story and with Stafford’s Memoir we get exactly that. The parts of the book set in 1910, even though they do not concern real people, ring true and conjured Edwardian London in all of its tumultuous glory. For me, Martin’s part of the story read a little historical as well, as it’s set two years before I was born. It was funny to read about a world where not only did not everyone have a mobile phone, but not everyone had a land line either. The juxtaposition between the contemporary feel of the narrative and those reminders that this was 1977 instead of 2007, never once truly jarred me out the story, it is more a testament to Mr Goddard’s wonderful writing.
Martin is the ultimate flawed protagonist. He has a scandal in his past, a weakness for alcohol, and is more inclined to take the easiest or most pleasurable path than doing what is right. He’s a man adrift in the world and he seems not totally convinced he should be looking for an anchor. Despite all this, he is sympathetic and he seems redeemable, which in the end, in a way, he is. Martin finds an anchor in the memoir of Edwin Stafford, a man his total opposite: brave, courageous, honourable, ethical and choosing the hard way if it means doing what is right. Martin gets caught up by the Memoir’s mystery and through his quest to solve it, Martin needs to confront the flaws in his own character and comes to take Edwin’s goals as his own.
The novel is pervaded with a sense of unease. It’s clear no one is what they seem to be and they all have hidden motives. This serves to keep the reader on her toes and kept me questioning most of the conclusions Martin draws about people. The one main character in the book that is exactly what he seems to be, is Edwin Stafford. Even his nephew Ambrose is more than the curmudgeonly drunk he seems when we meet him. The leading ladies in this book are one of its strengths; Elizabeth is awesome, such a strong and gentle woman, and Eve is such a delicious villain, living up to all the historical connotations of her name. Goddard’s characters are well drawn and come to life, both the good and the bad; they all are coloured in shades of grey, only coming into full focus and shading at the end of the story. And even then, after I’d closed the covers, I found myself wondering about some of them.
Past Caring is a crime novel where the crime is not at the heart of the story, in my opinion. Yes, there is a mystery, a large one, which requires solving, but to me it was a tale about love, honour and whether sometimes keeping a secret is preferable to revealing the truth. The answer may surprise you, I know it surprised me. I’ve been very lucky, all the books I picked for my Crime Caper challenge were excellent and I truly enjoyed them, but unexpectedly this one is my favourite. Mr Goddard knows how to write an engrossing tale and I’m glad that there are plenty more for me to catch up on.
This book was sent to me for review as part of the Great Transworld Crime Caper.