I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley
Over two years ago I read “Any Human Face” by Charles Lambert and was very impressed by this, at the time, new to me author. That book was the first one in a planned trilogy about the darker side of Rome. “The View from the Tower” is the second title in that trilogy and impressed me even more than the first one did.
Just like “Any Human Face” this is a literary thriller. Even though Helen’s husband is murdered at the start of the story the emphasis isn’t immediately on why or by whom he was killed. In fact, the first part of this book appears to concentrate on Helen and her feelings of guilt, loss, confusion and denial as she takes a closer look at her husband of 30 years and the relationship she had with him. Her feelings are complicated by the fact that for all of those 30 years Helen has had an affair with her husband’s best friend, Giacomo, the man she was visiting in his hotel room while her husband was being killed a short distance away.
As Helen struggles to understand her husband’s death and the extent to which she and the people she knows may have been responsible for it, she is forced to examine her own past and peel back the years of secrets and lies. It is while Helen takes a closer look at her life, the events that took place in the past and the feelings she has for the two men in her life that the reader and Helen get an understanding of what has happened and why events took the turn they did.
This is an intricate story. While on the surface it deals with politics, revolution, violence, murder and conspiracies this is also, or predominantly, a story about relationships, the secrets we keep from each other, no matter how close we imagine ourselves to be to our partner, and the shock of discovering after 30 or more years together that you really didn’t know the person you were sharing your life with - or they you - as well as you thought you did.
The descriptions of Helen’s struggles while coming to terms with her loss are heartbreakingly real. Those short moments of forgetting that the person who was such an integral part of your life is no longer there and the renewed pain of loss when you remember, are vivid and recognisable. I also liked that there are no heroes and no real villains in this book. Actions taken for all the right reasons may still prove completely wrong under closer scrutiny. This is a brutally honest book. None of the characters are portrayed in a flattering light; all of them have their shortcomings and most of them are well aware of that fact. These characters are as real as the people we meet from day to day in our real lives. As a result it took me some time to take to any of them. By the end of the book though I had come to like most of these characters exactly because they were so brutally realistic.
This is a thriller in which the tension is insidious rather than obvious, an undertone rather than in the readers face. Even when the story appears to be only about Helen’s wildly varying emotions the tension is there, just under the surface. The reader is constantly aware that whatever is going on it won’t be something simple, and while it doesn’t appear that the narrative is steering us in the direction of a solution, that is exactly what is happening. Every conversation and action - both past and present - has significance even when they appear unrelated to the mystery of who committed the murder.
Charles Lambert has produced an intriguing thriller that kept me guessing until the very end; a story that isn’t always easy to read but very rewarding once it all comes together. This is an author who is not afraid to portray people as they are, warts and all, and manages to make his readers care about them even when their actions are questionable. I’m in awe of this author’s writing and eagerly awaiting the third book in this Rome trilogy. I couldn’t have wished for a better start to my reading year.