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I always like discovering the work of a new author, regardless of how I come across them. When the name of Robert Goddard entered my consciousness, I was happy to give him a try, especially armed as I was with the double benefit of Waterstone's Buy One Get One Half Price offer and a gift card from a recent birthday. Whilst Robert Goddard may be new to me, he certainly isn't new to publishing, as "Fault Line" is his 23rd novel.
The story opens in 2010 when Jonathan Kellaway, about to retire from his job at International Kaolins, is tasked with one final job by the long serving head of the company, Greville Lashley. Lashley has asked for a history of the company to be written, but the writer has run into a dead end with some important pieces of company files from the 1960s having been replaced with blank paper. As one of the few people who were with the companies that eventually became International Kaolins at that time, it seems that he may have enough history and sufficient contacts with the company to help out.
The 1960s were not a good time for Wren & Company. The company was struggling and about to be merged into Cornish China Clays. Kenneth Foster, who was running the company, had apparently committed suicide several years before and in 1968, having searched for the mystery behind the death, his son Oliver seemingly did the same. Into this set of circumstances, Jonathan Kellway come for a summer job before going away to University, planning never to return to St. Austell properly again, but being caught up in the mystery partly due his desire for Oliver's sister Vivien and partly at the insistence of Greville Lashley.
The way Goddard presents the story was excellently done. He unveiled the mystery piece by piece as events took their course, as naturally as would have occurred if Jonathan had been finding things out for himself. Secrets are being kept from Jonathan, as well as between many of the other characters in the novel, and Goddard's writing is good enough that you feel as if you're finding them out along with him. There is little chance of a reader being able to rush ahead and predict what is likely to happen, as every time a certain point is reached, something happens to throw you a little off track and you have no choice but to follow on.
Such is the quality of Goddard's writing that you feel you have to follow. Events in the book may not proceed at as rapid a pace as in some books, but there is always a sense that something is coming. It's not the pace of the novel itself, but the anticipation of what there is to come that makes "Fault Line" such an irresistible read. You don't know whether the next events will be something affecting the characters, or something about the company as a whole, you just know that it's coming. With everything that happened, I kept reading to see what was going to happen next.
What helps is that the main characters here are very believable. Jonathan starts with the same attitude towards St. Austell as I had towards my home village at his age and with many of the same motivations for life. The family members all react to the deaths and to some events in a way that was entirely believable and, although there were a couple of events that perhaps weren't entirely in keeping with what an average person may achieve, Goddard never needed to resort to taking things off in strange directions of using deus ex machina to help the characters along. It was all very natural and that helped make "Fault Line" an enjoyable read.
The book in many places, focussing on characters and a family running a business and much of the intrigue going on behind it, reminded me a little of Sidney Sheldon's "Master of the Game", although without the glitz and glamour of Sheldon's writing. In many ways, this was a grittier, far more realistic version of that story. Whilst I enjoyed the Sheldon book, it didn't really connect with me, being set so far away and with events transpiring that I had little feeling for. In Goddard's book, things are set a lot closer to home and events are far more gentle and less sensational and the book felt like a friend from around the corner, not a long lost relative from many thousands of miles away.
The one down side to the book is that, because of the way the story is exposed layer by layer, it's not a book you could read more than once. After you've reached the end with all the secrets it holds exposed, they would not be a surprise and the suspense would not be there the second time around, although you would still be left with a very well written and enjoyable novel. For this reason, this is a book better off borrowed than purchased, although it can be found for as little as a penny plus postage from the Amazon Marketplace or for £2-£3 including postage on eBay. I ended up paying the equivalent of £4 and don't regret it, especially as I suspect that, if this is typical of the quality of Robert Goddard's writing, I'll be buying or borrowing many more.
This is the first book that I've read by Robert Goddard - a fairly prolific writer of over twenty bestselling thrillers, with probably the most well known being 'Sight Unseen.' 'Fault Line' was published in 2012.
The story begins with a sixty year old Jonathan Kellerman approaching retirement. He finds himself being asked, or more accurately told, to undertake one last task before being allowed to leave the multinational company he has worked for since his student days. The task itself - locating missing company records from the 1950s and 1960s- didn't particularly arouse my interest but it is hinted that there is some mystery here that Kellerman is implicated in.
The story jumps backwards to 1968, when a teenage Jonathan is just starting adult life and begins a temporary part time job before starting university. Jonathan soon meets various members of the 'Wren family' including the rather manipulative and mysterious fifteen year old, Oliver Foster and his beautiful older sister, Vivien, along with their step-father, Greville Lashley, who also appears to take Jonathan into his confidence where family and business matters are concerned.
Jonathan finds himself getting involved in Oliver's search for the truth about the events surrounding his father's death. This and his budding relationship with Vivien lead to Jonathan becoming embroiled with the complex Wren family in ways that he had never anticipated. The consequences of his actions and discoveries mean that Jonathan establish a connection to the Wren family that ensures he will become inextricably linked with them, even decades after subsequent events took place.
As this is the first Robert Goddard book that I'd read, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I found the writing style to be engaging and accessible and, even with the story set over several decades with some chopping and changing between settings, I was able to follow the story easily and keep track of who was who.
My favourite character, during the first part of the story, has to be the obsessive and mysterious young Oliver Foster who sets out to use Jonathan to meet his own needs, whilst showing considerable intelligence and perceptiveness. I was particularly intrigued when it was revealed that Oliver had actually been hidden in the boot of his father's car as a child, only to become trapped in there when his Dad drove off and killed himself. This early experience does help to explain his subsequent obsession with his father's death and his determination to expose any wrongdoing that he uncovers. I do think the author missed a great opportunity to grab my attention from the outset with this episode, as the whole incident is only very briefly referred to, almost in passing, as a way of explaining Oliver's behaviour. I think the suicide, and Oliver's survival, would have made a really thrilling prologue to the story and would have gripped my attention from the start. As it was, this was more of a steady, evenly paced read than I had anticipated.
That is not to say that this isn't an action packed story - the death count is surprisingly high, without becoming too unrealistic or bloodthirsty. There is a wide variety of crimes and incidents, including kidnapping, blackmail, murder, theft, adultery and suicide, so there is plenty to keep track of, especially as the action covers a period of over forty years. Despite the time period and the number of characters involved, as well as changes of setting including places as diverse as Cornwall and the Italian city of Capri, I never felt confused by what was going on and could always keep track of the story and the various twists and turns. The chapters do move about the decades but it also made explicitly clear when and where the action takes place, helping to avoid confusion.
One of the weaknesses of the story is that it is recounted in the first person through Jonathan's perspective. I feel that certain episodes and incidents would have been more effectively explained if the author had utilised the voice of other characters, for instance. Despite the twists and turns within the plot, this could have been possible by including letters from other characters, for example. I would imagine that letters written by characters such as Oliver or his quietly assertive step-father, Greville Lashley, would have given the story an extra dimension and, potentially, added some much needed suspense and tension.
Part of the reason for the absence of suspense may be that it was clear that Jonathan survived into old age, with the story beginning with Jonathan as an old man. At no point did I experience that sense of anxiety or uncertainty over whether Jonathan would survive or whether the repercussions of his actions and complicity in certain events would be his ultimate undoing.
There were a number of twists and turns and lots of incidents that I had not anticipated by any means but the ultimate outcome seemed a little too obvious to me, which was a little disappointing. I also felt that the plot line to recover the missing records, setting in motion the whole uncovering of events that had happened decades earlier, seemed a little unrealistic. (Surely the incriminating records would just have been destroyed rather than hidden away.) If the story itself had been more gripping, this kind of minor detail wouldn't have bothered me at all but, as it wasn't, I would have preferred a more logical reason for Jonathan to go delving into the company and family history.
This is a well-written, entertaining and plausible novel but, somehow, it seemed to lack the sense of suspense, tension and anxiety that, to me, is the essence of a good thriller. Tellingly, after finishing this I didn't experience that sense of loss that usually follows a really gripping thriller, when I find myself racing through the last few pages and then wish I'd been able to restrain myself once I've finished! Here, the conclusion was neatly rounded up with no ambiguities or frustrating unanswered questions but I still felt that there was something missing from the story as a whole.
I did enjoy reading this but it doesn't make me want to rush out and read more of Goddard's work so I feel that a three star rating is probably a fair reflection of the book and its impact on me.
==Synopsis of the book:==
In 1968 adult life with all its excitement and challenges is just beginning for Jonathan Kellaway. He has just finished school with a place of University in London ready for him in the September. Living in St Austell in Cornwall he decides to take a summer job at the second biggest clay company in the area Walter Wren & Co to raise money for his future life in London. He is keen to get away from Cornwall and looks forward to a new exciting life.
Jonathan soon finds this clay company to be quite run down and rumours are rife that very soon it will be bought out by the biggest competitor Cornish China Clay. This he is not really interested in as he only sees his position at the company as a summer job. But it does surprise him as this company does not appear to be going anywhere and a big injection of capital is required to keep it running. He quickly befriends the owners son Oliver Foster who similar in age to him and seems very interested in what has happened there in the past few years. In return for an introduction and date with his beautiful older sister Vivian, Jonathan agrees to copy the keys so the owners son can look at the company records. These two acts bring Jonathan into the mystery that will embrace him for the rest of his working life.
==My thoughts on the novel:==
I think this is one of the best suspense thrillers I have read in a long time. What I really liked about it was the books main character Jonathan Kellaway was not a Detective and so for me he was more of an amateur when he investigated or tried to find the answers to any thing that was happening. Having enjoyed many Police stories lately this made a nice change and I found because it encompassed such a long period in this man's life I felt a real kinship and understanding with him as he had been through so much with this one family and their involvement in the China Clay industry.
To be honest I had a certain expectation when I first picked this book up. I have read several suspense stories from the author Robert Goddard and without fail enjoyed them all. So with this in mind when I purchased this one I expected a good and well thought out story that would grab my imagination and that is exactly what I got. In truth I think this one exceeded my expectations and I would class it as the best book Goddard has ever written.
What I like about this authors books are they are clever pieces of fiction that make the reader think for themselves. In this one there was always a real mystery that needed solving and it took a long time for all the pieces to fall into place. Indeed I did not have a clue what the answers where or why, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story none the less. For me this writer has a very good imagination and I loved the way the story was told over such a long period of time starting in 1968 and finishing in 2010. This book is Goddard's 23 novel and it was first published in 2012.
Despite Robert Goddard being one of my favourite writers I had not read a book from him for nearly a year. I seem to go through phases with writers and it was only when I friend of mine was singing the praises of this novel did I realise I must try it myself. I would compare this authors style as similar to Mark Billingham or Stephen Booth. I think one of the main reasons I like his books is because they challenge me and have depth within them and this story was no different indeed I would say it had more depth than many of the previous ones.
The story begins in 2010 with Jonathan Kellaway approaching retirement but asked to undertake
one last task, that being to find missing records from the 1960's from the Walter Wren & Co. He is asked by the owner of the company who he has worked for all his life and as a result of several takeovers are now called Intercontinental Kaolin and a worldwide organisation not just a Cornish company. He is asked to do this because of his knowledge to those days and his involvement with the family over the subsequent years.
To be frank this didn't particularly grab my attention this first chapter. I am not interested in large foreign companies and it was only when the second chapter went back to 1968 did I start to become more interested in the story. I liked the idea of Jonathan becoming friends with Oliver the owners son and there being some kind of mystery that only Oliver at this stage was interested in. As Jonathan was far more interested in getting to know his older sister Vivian!! And while I found these three characters interaction interesting it was Jonathan's uncertain relationship with Vivian that really got me involved in the story.
I am not in any way, shape of form interested in love stories, but I found these two relationship fascinating. I think because they were quite different from each-other and it was told so well by the author. Indeed for me this could have become a complex love story with mystery and added spice within it. But as the story developed the mystery and suspense took centre stage and because the reader like Jonathan did not know who he could trust and who was telling him the truth it made for a compelling mystery and one I really enjoyed.
The story was unconventional in some respects. For example it would move from 1968 to 2010 then onto 1984 and back to 2010 again. I did not find this confusing in the slighted as this was telegraphed to the reader and it made perfect sense. I just wonder how it would have read had it gone in chronological order. I think I would have preferred it but by sharing some details about 2010 the author gave nothing away about the story with the exception that the novels main character Jonathan was still alive and working in the same industry he had began his working life in.
The story had a really good feel and pace to it. The story was so packed in suspense and mystery I did not have a clue what was going to happen next although it was usually exciting if not always something good. I loved the detail the author used to describe a scene it made me feel I was being transported back in time to these places. In truth it was so well written I felt a touch of nostalgia and sadness for Jonathan's past which he clearly also yarned for as it came through so well from the author's descriptions of what had happened.
I really had no idea how the story would end. It had moved round the globe and had so many unexpected twists and turns within it. And usually if you have a great story I find the ending or the conclusion can let it down. This was absolutely not the case in this book. It was an exciting end that was full of possibilities and I did not know what to expect and once again full of suspense. This was followed by real end when things were explained and they all made sense and impressed me as I had not considered what I was told. The story even left open would would happen next to the remaining players in the story and I liked that too as I could decide if it was a happy outcome for them.
The stories main character was Jonathan Kellaway and I found him an excellent choice. I liked his his attitude and found I had a lot in common with him and for once I wanted a leader character to succeed in their quest. I liked the way throughout the story he was manipulated by various other characters and the way he always did his best to help everyone out and remain as honest as possible. Even his affair with Vivian I wanted them to be happy together and I enjoyed the way their relationship was explained and played out. As it made sense given their personalities.
In truth I have really struggled to think of anything I didn't like about this book. Even purchasing the paperback on Amazon seemed great value as I paid 2.99 for it and when you consider it was only recently published this seemed excellent especially as it was over 500 pages long. If ever have to describe a page tuner ( a phase I loathe!!) it would be this because it was quite simply a fascinating story that I felt totally absorbed in throughout.
For me this was a fantastic piece of suspense fiction. I would recommend it without hesitation and for me it is the best book I have read in a long long time. It was such an enjoyable story that for me had everything while at the same time being cleverly written so that nothing was ever given away. As for any negatives about the book I a can't think of any.
Year first published: 2012
Thanks for reading my review.
This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.
© CPTDANIELS November 2011