Jo Walton’s novel opens with a typical mystery – a murder at an English country house – in a most atypical world. It is one in which the British did not defeat the Nazis, but sued for peace on the even of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Eight years after the “Farthing Peace”, the appeasers are celebrated in Britain as having been right, with everyone believing that the war only proved that the nation could stand aloof from the bloodshed on the Continent. Yet events soon prove just how wrong such thinking can be, as a prominent aristocrat is found dead with a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. As Scotland Yard inspector Peter Carmichael investigates, he encounters a conspiracy that threatens to bring the climate of fear and hate across the Channel.
Walton’s book is an enjoyable mixture of two differing genres, which combine to provide a fresh and engaging tale. The world she envisions is a plausible one, with historical detail that indicates a good amount of effort in fleshing out a new chain of events. The plot itself is gripping, with a mystery that does not fully resolve itself until the final pages yet holds the reader’s interest throughout. While the ending presages the descent into the grim world of her sequels, Ha'penny and Half a Crown, it offers a very real meditation on the choices people make and the price that they pay for them. It all comes together for a suspenseful tale that appeals to both fans of alternate history and anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel.