10. Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears
While Malcolm Gladwell has said that he “cannot remember enjoying a book as much as Stone’s Fall” and told Oprah.com that “[Pears] might be the best mystery/thriller writer alive”, I have placed this just inside my top ten for ’09. It’s good, but c’mon, Malcolm.
I will admit, I struggled through Pears’ labyrinthine masterpiece, An Instance of the Fingerpost, when I read it back in the day. It weighs in at over 700 pages, tells the story of a murder from 4 differing perspectives, and while it took me forever to get through, I realized afterward that I love books with that type of narrative structure – which ultimately lead me to authors like David Mitchell, Orhan Pamuk. That said, Pears has returned with the similarly structured Stone’s Fall, which encompasses the life of a wealthy turn-of-the-century industrialist named John Stone. When Stone dies under mysterious circumstances in 1909, (did he fall out the window, jump out the window, or was he pushed out the window?) a young reporter begins to dig into Stone’s life, not entirely sure what he is unearthing or who is pulling his strings. When the enigmatic Henry Cort directs him to pre-WWI spygames in Paris 1890 and Venetian industrial espionage in 1867, this incredible onion of a novel begins to gradually unfold.
Pears expertly keeps the storyline unfolding backwards in time, until all preconceived notions we may have about the characters (established chapter to chapter) are sufficiently pressed into submission and completely reworked. In each section, the reader emerges with a completely new perception of what Stone was really like, as well as what the motives and ambitions of the people he surrounded himself with really were. Well worth the time investment & a fascinating, meticulously researched, multi-layered masterpiece. Leaving you asking, who was John Stone, really?