“Peace is as dirty a business as war,” opines one of the characters in this thriller set in Paris in the immediate aftermath of World War I. That simple statement is as good a way as any of summing up the action and the tone of the novel.
First in a trilogy, The Ways of the World introduces James “Max” Maxted, veteran of the recent conflict and the second son of an English baronet. Max was an ace pilot for the Royal Flying Corps until his plane went down over enemy territory and he spent the remainder of the war in a German POW camp. Now, in the spring of 1919, he’s back home and reconnecting with his mechanic buddy from the RFC, Sam Twentyman. The two are cooking up a scheme to open a flying school on a piece of land belonging to the Maxted family’s country estate, as Max feels confident his father will agree to allow him the use of the property. In the opening minutes of the story, however, Max learns that his father, a lifelong (though semi-retired) member of the Foreign Service, has died in Paris, falling from a rooftop. Paris, of course, is where the diplomats of the world have gathered to conduct the peace conference that will result in a treaty to formally end the war. Sir Henry was there as part of the British delegation, and his sudden death seems to be viewed by the powers that be as an inconvenience and a potential embarrassment.
Max travels to Paris to make arrangements, expecting to find nothing more damning than an amorous liaison to account for Sir Henry’s presence on a rooftop in a neighborhood far from the peace talks. Instead, his instincts are instantly alerted to a number of suspicious factors indicating there’s more going on here. A lot more, as it turns out. While Parisian police and some rather mysterious British and American officials all want Max to believe his father either lost his footing and fell accidentally, or flung himself off the building in a suicidal fit of despondency, Max begins to form his own opinion: Sir Henry was murdered. But why? And by whom? Max won’t rest until he discovers the truth. Meanwhile, even as more and more suspects are added to the roster, the bodies of the dead start to mount up.
Narrator Derek Perkins tells the story capably, and handles the accents of both aristocratic and working-class Englishmen, as well as the various accents of Europe and Asia heard in the cosmopolitan setting of Paris during the 1919 peace conference. Goddard’s writing style favors plot over character development, which is acceptable in a thriller in which the action keeps clipping along. Here, although the story bogs down a bit in the middle, once the action picks up again, it’s nonstop all the way to the end.
While Max does eventually find answers to the “who” and the “how” of his father’s death, what he learns about the “why” is that it is far more complicated than he could have imagined. He’s determined to discover the whole story … and listeners can look forward to his doing just that in Books Two and Three.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.