At a lush villa on the sun-soaked island of Madeira, Martin Radford is given a second chance. His life ruined by scandal, Martin holds in his hands the leather-bound journal of another ruined man, former British cabinet minister Edwin Strafford. What’s more, Martin is being offered a job—to return to England and investigate the rise and fall of Strafford, an ambitious young politician whose downfall, in 1910, is as mysterious as the strange deaths that still haunt his family.
Martin is intrigued by Strafford’s story, by the man’s overwhelming love for a beautiful suffragette, by her inexplicable rejection of him and their love affair’s political repercussions. But as he retraces Strafford’s ruination, Martin realizes that Strafford did not fall by chance; he was pushed. Suddenly Martin, who has not cared for many people in his life, cares desperately—about a man’s mysterious death and a family’s terrible secret, about a love beyond reckoning and betrayal beyond imagining. Most of all Martin cares because the story he is uncovering is not yet over—and among the men and women still caught in its web, Martin himself may be the most vulnerable of all….
Written in clear, resonant prose, Goddard's first novel, nominated for the Booker prize, is a poised telling of a complex tale. A fascinating "could this be true?'' story within a story is reminiscent of Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time, while Thomas Hardy's tragic characters are deliberately echoed in the Edwardian British politician Edwin Strafford and the troubled historian Martin Radford, who has been chosen to research Strafford's tormented life. Radford finds a memoir that contains hints of a political and moral crime, past but not forgotten, so devastating that even in 1977 it reverberates through the corridors of power. As he reads the memoir, Radford eventually comes to regard the dead Home Secretary as a friend, even as his search uncovers corruption and murder. The novel's subtlety is reflected in the different meanings of its title, and the satisfying climax weaves together the strands of past and present. In one sense a historical thriller, and in another a romantic novel of a love affair gone disastrously wrong, this is, in any case, a wonderful read.