My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The final book in The Wide World Trilogy and Robert Goddard remembers the Wide World bit on the cover and has the story rushing – as much as a five week sail trip can be said to be rushing – off to Japan in search of answers to the many questions raised back in Europe and in the first two Wide World books, The Ways of the World and The Corners of the Globe.
The travel time to Japan can be easily explained – in case you haven’t been with us thus far – by the story being set in 1919, during and just after the Paris Peace Conference, formed by the winning side, to sort out the mess made in the Forst World War. The main character, WWI flying ‘ace’ James ‘Max’ Maxted is dead. It seems he was killed in the incident at the end of The Corners of the Globe. That’s not a spoiler – at the end, he is shot. You’ll have to wonder just why Robert Goddard might want to kill his hero off until you read this book. Max’s colleagues have already arrived in Japan and are hot on the trail of the mysterious Jack Farnham, who might, if he’s still alive, be able to supply some of the afore-mentioned, much needed answers. Or shed some light on them anyway. Or not, as you know the case might also be. Hot on their trail, or maybe even there before them, is the enigmatic, ‘how does he DO that?’ devious, treacherous, German spy-master, Fritz Lemmer. The whole trail of events was set in motion by Sir Henry Maxted, Max’s father, who died even before the first book, The Ways of the World even started. Seems to run in the family, that. Max, according to his older brother, who was looking at a smooth transference of the family assets, property and titles into his hands, had one job. To sign the papers in Paris and bring their father’s body home. It was never going to be that simple and soon a whole intriguing can of worms was opened, one which has had me pretty much spellbound the whole way through the three volumes.
The series as a whole, has been wonderful. Entertaining, interesting, surprising, full of suspense and shocks and very well written indeed. There are actually signs, and I do have one or two un-answered questions of my own, that there may be further books featuring some of the characters. Those still alive, of course. The middle book, The Corners of the Globe, was particularly good. It dealt with issues brought up in the first book, not by solving the clues, but by expanding them and confusing the issues even more. It was a brilliant book, I thought, quite extraordinary as a number two as well (rather like The Bone Tree by Greg Iles, in that respect). So, it was an almost impossible level for The Ends of the Earth to live up to really. Whilst it is up there, it doesn’t quite match my expectations. Not entirely my fault, blame it on a superb second book. What’s wrong? Not an awful lot, however…personally, I wouldn’t have had the story going off to Japan. I’d have had the Japanese angles of the story coming to us, as it were. The first two, stayed in Britain and France and worked superbly well. The trip to Japan, whilst necessary for the story as it is now, seems still to be, as I flippantly mentioned above, a way of justifying the Whole Wide World tag. Moving – and finishing – the story out to Japan, removed any subconscious frame of reference we European readers had. And felt a little forced. The Japanese are so different, were so different back then, they might as well be aliens. The first two, we (thought we) knew where we were and so the surprises were even more surprising and shocking. Anything here, can be written off as ‘the kind of thing they obviously get up to over there.’ The 39 Steps bit in volume two, is just superb, way better for it’s simplicity and naturalness (if that’s a word) than much of the set-pieces here. And, the big castle set-piece – again, yeah, necessary for the plot as it is (well, a certain part of the castle, anyway), but it was all bit ‘game-show,’ Mission Impossible (Implausible)-like and further removed the characters from reality, even that of the well-written streets of Tokyo.
As a whole, a really excellent, old-fashioned (in more ways than one) mystery, thriller series. With hopefully more to come and to be revealed.