Next of Kin by John Boyne

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Next of Kin by John Boyne

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A story of murder set to the background of the 1936 Abdication crisis. The story has a very good plot and excellent characterisation but lacks pace in the first half of the book. It's worth reading for the second part though.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0141018798

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The Montignacs have always passed their wealth down through the male members of the family and Owen Montignac confidently expects to inherit his uncle's considerable wealth. After all, the estate should have gone to his father and since his father's death when he was a young child he has been brought up as Peter Montignac's son. He has pressing gambling debts and needs the money to pay them. He's shocked to find that no provision has been made for him in the will and the estate passes to his cousin Stella. Just how far is he prepared to go to get hold of £50,000?

Judge Roderick Bentley must shortly pass sentence in a murder trial and there's speculation about whether or not he will sentence the defendant to hang. Domson is confident that he'll get a light custodial sentence. After all, he's third cousin to King Edward VIII and some 27th in line to the throne. The newspapers suspect that the Judge will be lenient, not least because he has a son who is the same age as Domson. How would he feel if it was his son on trial for his life? In that situation what would he be prepared to do to save his son's life?

The King, meanwhile, has troubles of his own. News of his affair with Wallis Simpson has leaked into the newspapers and the country is divided about whether or not he should be allowed to marry her. Just what will those with power do to prevent the marriage or to force him to abdicate? What will people do to get power?

These three seemingly separate strands weave together to form an excellent and compelling plot. The King's relationship with Wallis Simpson throws a long shadow. As a solution to the problem it was suggested that Edward and Wallis should be allowed to marry but that any children should be excluded from the succession. Rather than taking the title of Queen she could be known as the Duchess of Cornwall. The heir to the throne would have been the King's brother and then his daughter Princess Elizabeth, but it was pointed out that there would be two factions in the country - one which thought that a child of King Edward VIII should inherit the throne and another which thought that it should go to the Princess Elizabeth. The country could be taken back to medieval times. There would be no knowing what those who were disinherited would be capable of.

There's no knowing what Owen Montignac is capable of either. He's the son of the disinherited elder son who made an unacceptable marriage and now finds himself deprived of wealth and position. He's charismatic and obsessive, almost completely without a conscience. He's not a character you can like, but it's almost impossible not to admire the skill of the author who created him. There's a complex cast of characters and each one has been created with the same skill and care. It's impossible not to feel for those caught up in events far beyond their control. This is a story about people's price, about what they will be prepared to do to save what they hold dear, from the mother and father of a son on a capital charge to the housekeeper who fears that she's about to lose the only home that she's known in her adult life. Sadly, it seems that everyone has their price.

I must sound as though I'm very impressed with the book, but I do have a reservation and that to do with the pace of the book. The writing is good and there's a real ear for dialogue but for the first part of the book I really wondered where it was going. I could easily have put it down and left it. Sometimes I had to persuade myself to keep reading. Then I got to the second half of the book and I found it impossible to put down. It's a delicate balancing act between pace and character development and I don't think that it was entirely successful in this book. I will be looking out for John Boyne's work in future though as this was a good story and the final part of this book will stay in my mind for a long time.

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