My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Corners of the Globe is the second in Robert Goddard’s The Wide World trilogy and it definitely shows all the signs of a master of the genre at work.
I think I was perhaps fortunate to read this coming off the back of another mid-series masterwork (too many ‘master’s there – Grammar Ed), The Bone Tree, by Greg Iles. I’m actually not quite sure how that works or even if it matters, but it felt like a hell of a good period to be a reader while I was on the go with those two anyway. Like (the brilliant) The Bone Tree, this is so much more than just a mid-series book, with much more going for it, and with a development of character and unfolding of plot that you don’t always find in book two of threes. Though, it has got to be said, as with TBT this is so much a part of the series as a whole (you can see that even though both are ‘only’ mid-way as yet), that you really can’t and shouldn’t take them out of the series. What I mean is – if you haven’t read the first book, go do it now. Then read this. It must not be read on its own. Or in isolation, or before number one, or after number three. You’re not doing yourself, the series or Robert Goddard any favours otherwise.
The story starts (or continues from book one – you choose) in 1919. Former WWI flying ace, James ‘Max’ Maxted, the son of Sir Henry Maxted, whose murder in Paris while attending the negotiations after the conclusion of World War One, starts the whole story rolling in book one. It was Max’s refusal to take the ‘accident’ at face value that got him into trouble with the authorities, German spy rings and his family, in the first place. Here, his troubles are largely his own work. Max seems to be working for the feared German spy-master Fritz Lemmer, a man who has his fingers in more pies than he has fingers alright. He has something on everyone, he’s everywhere and there when you least expect him. As Max finds out, almost to his cost several times. Max thinks Lemmer is the key to finding out the truth about not just his father’s death, but about his father and is sent up to Scotland to the Orkney’s to where the German High Fleet are interred. His mission is to recover a document containing secrets Lemmer is desperate should not fall into his enemy’s hands. Who, Lemmer decides, is now Max. From this point, it’s desperate and dangerous and ‘look behind you!’ stuff, which if you’ve seen or read The Thirty-Nine Steps, will have you go all misty eyed at the sheer unpredictable, nail-biting, gotta read on brilliance of the whole thing. That is, if you can tear your eyes away to wipe them.
Each new piece of information Max discovers, only seems to reveal that there are many more pieces to find. And they don’t know what the final picture should look like, but there’s something there, something in the background, something casting shadow over the whole that is just tantalisingly out of reach. Everybody seems to know more than they’re letting on. Especially the dead.
Max was a good character to start, here he is developed perfectly. Thoughtful, resourceful and – fittingly – often flies by the seat of his pants. As in book one, there is a strong supporting cast. Sometimes, Max seemed more of a link, the catalyst, than the main character, even if it all in the end, revolves around him and his father. He sometimes feels like he should know the whole, if he can just see the link asometimes while being the centre, seems to know less than those around him.
Ends that were loose from the first book, are tied up here and other ends are loosened in preparation for book three. Perhaps it is not as complicated or viscerally shocking as The Bone Tree. Perhaps more subtle and understated, though absolutely no less exciting and gripping.
An indecently good book. I can’t wait for the final instalment, neither should you.