The Ends of the Earth | Robert Goddard | 2015, Pb 2016 | Bantam Press | 379p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1919 and, finally, the negotiations to settle the Great War are complete. Ambassadors and agents disperse from Paris back to their respective countries. Peace can ensue while, for some, the circumstances that will lead to a second war are underway. The balance of power has shifted; spies and double agents are rife; secrets are everything. But in the business of secrets lives count for very little indeed. Nobody knows that better than James ‘Max’ Maxted, the man who survived years as a pilot and then a prisoner of war but whose war really began when his father Sir Henry was murdered in Paris while attending the peace negotiations.
The Ends of the Earth completes Robert Goddard’s historical thriller trilogy, one of the most intricate and clever spy novels that I have read. You’d have to be bonkers to read The Ends of the Earth without having first read its predecessors, The Ways of the World and The Corners of the Globe. Although each of the novels, including this latest one, contain complete stages in Max’s hunt for the truth surrounding his father’s murder, each follows on directly from the one before. In fact, The Corners of the Globe effectively finished in mid-sentence, in the biggest cliffhanger that I’ve read (it made me grumble, I can tell you), but now, at last, my curiosity and impatience have been satisfied. If you’ve not read the earlier novels, then now is the perfect time to do so – the trilogy is complete! This will make life much easier for your memory – mine has had to struggle with remembering names and facts over the two years that I’ve read these three books – and it will mean that you can read them in one fell swoop. This by far the best way to appreciate this fantastic, incredibly clever story.
It isn’t easy to review the last book in a trilogy like this. I want to give nothing away and, as with the previous books, there are twists and turns, shocks and surprises, throughout. This is a lethal world. The stakes are enormous and so it’s not a surprise that a fair few people don’t survive to emerge on the other side. What I can say is that in this novel, as expected, the action moves from Paris to what would have indeed felt like the ends of the Earth – Japan. In the early 20th century, Japan would have seemed an exotic, almost alien, land to Max, Sam, Malory and Schools. Having brought 1919 Paris and England and Scotland to life in the first two books, Robert Goddard now achieves the same with Japan. It’s a mesmerising portrait, violent and sinister as well as beautiful and kind.
The Ends of the Earth is rather different from the previous two novels. It all feels much more personal – I won’t tell you why. There are also elements to the story which are particularly distressing and tragic. As noted in The Corners of the Globe, Max is not the man he once was. He has been totally changed during his transformation into a spy. He knows it, too.
The plot is as deliciously complicated as before but by this stage the lines are more clearly drawn, the enemy stepping out from the shadows. Action is what matters now and when it comes it is so thrilling and tense. At last, everything comes to a head and it is utterly compelling.
In an ideal world I would have preferred all three books to have been published in one volume – this would have maintained the momentum from start to finish – but there are small recaps along the way and they do help. I’ve waited for The Ends of the Earth for many months now and it is everything I wanted. I cannot praise Robert Goddard’s skill enough – this is a masterful historical spy thriller but it is more than that. It is a portrait of the world in the aftermath of a devastating war; countries emerge in new forms, constructed and deconstructed by intelligence networks that cross the planet. Human lives have paid the cost for this transformation but some of the greatest tragedies, the ones that emerge here, are the quiet ones and the results of these will last for generations. The Wide World is an outstanding trilogy, Max a remarkable hero, and I heartily recommend it.