Farthing (novel)

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Tor Books hardcover
AuthorJo Walton
CountryUnited States
Series"Small Change"
GenreAlternate history novel
PublisherTor Books
Publication date
August 8, 2006
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages320 (hardcover edition)
ISBN0-7653-1421-5 (hardcover edition)
823/.92 22
LC ClassPR6073.A448 F37 2006
Followed byHa'penny 

Farthing is an alternate history novel written by Jo Walton and published by Tor Books. It was first published on August 8, 2006. A sequel, Ha'penny, was released in October 2007 by Tor Books. A third novel in the series, Half a Crown, was released in September 2008, also from Tor, and a short story, "Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction", was published on Tor.com in February 2009.


The novel is set in the 1949 of an alternate history.[1] Though the divergence point from actual history seems to be Rudolf Hess's flight to Scotland in May 1941, it is implied in the novel's sequel Ha'penny that the critical difference was the failure of the United States to provide aid to Britain in 1940.[2] With Britain lacking American support, Hess's entreaties for peace negotiations were accepted, and have led to a peace between the United Kingdom and Nazi Germany (against Winston Churchill's wishes), and to Britain withdrawing from World War II. The war continues mainly as a stalemate between Germany and the Soviet Union. The United States never became involved in the conflict, and Charles Lindbergh is president of a peaceful country seeking closer economic ties to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The novel was inspired by Walton's analysis of the setting of Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar.[3]



The book begins as a "cozy" or "country house" mystery involving the murder of Sir James Thirkie, a member of the "Farthing Set" and the architect of the "Farthing Peace" between the United Kingdom and Germany. The Farthing Set, so named for their association with the country house of that name (and analogous to the real-life Cliveden set)[4] were prominent supporters of appeasement before the war, a policy vindicated by the outcome of the war. The narrative alternates between the first-person account of Lucy Kahn, daughter of the proprietors of the Farthing estate, and a third-person narrative focusing on Scotland Yard Inspector Peter Carmichael, the lead investigator assigned to the case.


At a weekend party at Farthing House, a large country house in Hampshire, Sir James Thirkie, a prominent politician who is considered likely to become a leading minister in an upcoming cabinet shuffle, is found murdered in his room, with a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Though suspicion immediately falls upon David Kahn, the only Jew invited to the party, the lead investigator, Inspector Peter Carmichael, is unconvinced. Carmichael, who along with Sergeant Royston was sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the murder, suspects that the star was placed on the body to divert attention towards David. Equally skeptical is David's wife Lucy, the daughter of estate owner Lord Eversley, who notes the tension between Thirke's newly-pregnant wife, Angela, and Angela's sister, Daphne, who was having an affair with Thirke.

As Carmichael begins his investigation, he requests that the assembled guests remain at the house. Chafing at the oppressive atmosphere, Lucy accepts an offer from her father to go riding; while out, they are attacked by a young man, who shoots at them with a rifle before being killed by Lord Eversley. An inspection of the body uncovers a membership card identifying him as a Communist and an identity card for an Alan Brown, a different name from the one on the party ID. Carmichael is puzzled by the incident, which seems unconnected to Thirke's murder. As pressure grows for Carmichael to release the guests, a search of the Kahns' apartment turns up letters that offer evidence of David's involvement with an underground Jewish organization that sought the murder of Thirke and the other members of the "Farthing Set". Aware that an arrest will mean the effective conviction of David Kahn, yet still not convinced of his guilt, Carmichael convinces him to remain at Farthing House under police supervision.

Returning to London, Carmichael is given until Friday to conclude the case. His ability to act is further hampered by the political situation, as Mark Normanby, Daphne's husband, the Foreign Secretary, and one of the guests in attendance at Farthing House, emerges from the cabinet shuffle as Prime Minister. Exploiting both Thirke's murder and the shooting incident, Normanby announces the introduction of identity cards, the expulsion of foreign nationals, the banning of Communists, and a delay in the general election. Resisting political pressure to arrest David Kahn, Carmichael pursues his investigation of Angela Thirke, discovering that her baby was likely the result of an affair with the family's chauffeur. Locating Brown's girlfriend, a young woman named Agnes Timms, in Southend-on-Sea, he travels there with Royston to interview her, whereupon they discover that Brown was approached by Angela Thirke to stage the attack on Lord Eversley, ostensibly as a joke. Returning to London, Carmichael learns that the yellow star was purchased by someone claiming to be David Kahn. With a warrant now issued to arrest David, Carmichael calls to warn the Kahns, giving them time to escape.

With the Kahns now on the run, Carmichael goes to Wales to interview Thirke's mother, who recounts Angela Thirke's admission that she helped Lord Eversley and Mark Normanby murder her husband. While returning to London to arrest Angela and Normanby, however, Carmichael discovers that Agnes Timms has been murdered. Undaunted, Carmichael presents his findings to Penn-Barkis, the head of Scotland Yard, identifying the involvement of the three suspects in a conspiracy to murder Thirke and place the blame on the Jews for it. After listening to Carmichael's description, though, Penn-Barkis orders Carmichael to drop the case, using Carmichael's homosexuality to blackmail him into acquiescing in the official story.


Freida Murray reviewing for Booklist said "the characters are highly plausible, and in every aspect, from the petty snobbery hampering the inspector to the we-don't-do-that-here conclusion the plot encourages warily reconsidering the daily news."[5] Kirkus Reviews said "despite a rather fumbling approach, Walton's sinister political conspiracies pack a considerable wallop."[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

It was nominated for a Nebula Award,[7] a Quill Award,[8] the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel,[9] the Locus Award[10] and the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

It won the Romantic Times 2006 Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.[11]

Publication history[edit]

  • 2006, USA, Tor Books ISBN 0-7653-1421-5, Pub date 8 August 2006, Hardback
  • 2007, USA, Tor Books ISBN 0-7653-5280-X, Pub date 28 August 2007, Mass Market Paperback
  • 2008, Spain, La Factoría de Ideas ISBN 84-9800-360-1, Pub date 2008, Paperback, as El Círculo de Farthing (The Farthing Circle) (Spanish tr. by Carmen Albaladejo)
  • 2008, Hungary, Delta Vision, Pub date 2008, Paperback, as Farthing (Hungarian tr. by Gábor Novák)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weinman, Sarah (28 October 2007). "The what-might-have-been-genre". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  2. ^ Jo Walton, Ha'penny (New York: Tor, 2007), p. 17.
  3. ^ A Pit in Dothan: Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar, at Tor.com; by Jo Walton; published 10 September 2012; retrieved 3 September 2010
  4. ^ Farthing: Heart-rending alternate history about British-Reich peace - Boing Boing
  5. ^ Murray, Frieda (1 August 2006). "Farthing". Booklist. 102 (22): 58. ISSN 0006-7385.
  6. ^ "FARTHING". Kirkus Reviews. 74 (12): 606. 15 June 2006. ISSN 0042-6598.
  7. ^ 2006 Final Nebula Award Ballot
  8. ^ Announcement of Quills nominees at The Beat Archived 15 July 2012 at Archive.today, 2 June 2007
  9. ^ John W. Campbell Memorial Award Finalists, accessed 4 June 2007
  10. ^ 2007 Locus Award finalists
  11. ^ Romantic Times 2006 Reviewers' Choice Award Winners

External links[edit]