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Review: Past Caring by Robert Goddard

06 Mar

The first of the three books that I picked as part of the Transworld Crime Caper was Robert Goddards debut crime novel Past Caring. Past Caring tells the story of a down on his luck, divorced, history teacher being given the opportunity to research the background of a former Home Secretary in the Pre-WW1 Liberal cabinet. What seems to our narrator as a straight forward tale of one mans fall from grace rapidly takes on sinister notions. Somebody conspired to ruin the career of this man, and possibly kill him. The story by and large chases down the who and why, dove tailing with the ghosts of the narrators own problematic life.

I chose Past Caring as the first book because I am myself a trained historian. My historical interests including the period which this book covers. What appealed to me was a work of historical fiction being set in a ‘present’ of the 1960s but pursuing the ghosts of the 1910s. The research to make it authentic must have been immense.

I had the unusual situation when reading it of finding myself not being particularly keen to get round to it, but every time I did pick it up I found I couldn’t put it down for hours. Have you experienced that situation with a book before? Influencing this was probably what I thought was a weak prologue and a rash of typographical and other mistakes in the text – it really needs proofreading – a surprise considering how long ago it was first published. The occasional use of a technique where the narrator referenced events that had not happened yet were also a little annoying and disrupted the tension and flow of the work. A lot of the characters also seem to talk with a similar well-educated polite voice. Perfectly acceptable in the memoir of the deceased Home Secretary and in conversations between historians but a little out of place when we listen in on other less well-educated people.

That said, there are two fantastic qualities to the book that deserve a recommendation. On the one hand there is the memoir that forms a good chunk of chapter 1 (which is about a 6th of the size of the full book) and all the different vivid stories characters tell. The first person narrative really works in these passages and pulls you right into the middle of the mystery. The second quality is the representation of historians, historical debate and processes. I read passages of conversation by historians in the book that felt incredibly authentic. Robert Goddard knows his characters inside and out and has written a tight, gripping crime story. Certainly memorable and, although I hope you get a printing that is corrected, I do recommend reading it if you enjoy your mystery and Georgian England.

Time is running out for me to complete the Transworld Crime Caper 3 book challenge. I’m going to have to up my game. Pretty sure I can get the 2nd book, “The Business of Dying” by Simon Kernick read, but all three? College and work have something to say about that. I’m not throwing the towel in yet though…
You can order the edition reviewed in this post from Amazon here.

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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Fiction, Reviews

 

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