I received this book from Black Swan through Book Geeks and rated it 4.5 stars.
When his uncle dies, Owen Montignac is convinced that he stands to inherit the extensive estate. After all, it is a Montignac tradition that only males inherit, and with Owen’s only surviving cousin being Stella there is no doubt about what will be found in the will. Except that his uncle does manage to surprise Owen. Stella inherits everything with Owen getting absolutely nothing.
To say that Owen is disappointed would be a gross understatement. After all, his father was the older brother and should have been in charge of the estate. The fact that he was disowned by Owen’s grandfather doesn’t change anything in the young man’s mind, and neither does the fact that his uncle took him in after his parents died when he was only five. But Owen has bigger problems than just the injustice he is facing; he owns a small fortune in gambling debts to a very dangerous man and unless he can come up with a way to repay the full amount in seven months he may well find himself in mortal danger.
The year is 1936 and while Owen is facing the personal tragedy his life has turned into, the rest of England is mesmerised by what is going on with their new King and the American woman he has fallen in love with. When the King’s and Owen’s dilemmas find each other an evil and dangerous plot is executed; a plot which may well mean a shameful death for an innocent young man.
Let me start by saying that this is a very well written book. John Boyne has a way with words that makes his characters come alive on the page. But more than that, this story is written in such a way that the pages almost turn themselves. There is always something happening, and even the moments and characters which at first seem to have little or nothing to do with the plot suddenly turnout to be pivotal to the story. It is only very slowly that the reader finds out the full extend of what is going on in this book, and even when it seems that the full story has been revealed, there are one or two further shocks in store.
This in an ingenious and rather horrifying story. It is proof of just how accomplished an author John Boyne is that he manages to write a book with a completely despicable main character without alienating the reader. In fact I found myself fascinated by Owen Montignac. This character was so delusional, so full of himself and so good at justifying his evil deeds that at times I was tempted to believe he wasn’t bad at all. And just when I had convinced myself that Owen was indeed pure evil, there would be a small action through which he redeemed himself a little bit.
If you’re the sort of reader who likes the good being rewarded while the bad get their just desserts, this probably isn’t the book for you. Evil triumphs and drags innocent bystanders down as it goes. Those who are evil make fascinating characters though, and the way the various plots tie together is ingenious. What makes this a real chiller of a story is the fact that it is so very easy to imagine something like this happening. The lengths people are prepared to go to in order to get what they think they are entitled to are unimaginable and all that happens in this book is just about convincing enough to make it realistic.
For me this was a fascinating historical novel by an author who has yet to disappoint me.