Book review: Next of Kin by John Boyne

History and mystery are in perfect harmony in John Boyne’s thriller set amidst the rancour of the abdication crisis in 1936.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 16th October 2012, 10:00 am

Best known his award-winning novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, featuring two boys caught up in the Holocaust, Irish writer Boyne has found new inspiration in the tensions rippling around England’s ruling classes as King Edward VIII’s short reign drew to its abrupt end.

Next of Kin is a clever, multilayered crime novel which deftly weaves together three strands of compelling plotline into a terrific tale of conscience, corruption and compromise.

Boyne is an imaginative and daring writer and here he concentrates his skills on creating a cast of rich characters, an authentic dialogue and a credible sense of time and place.

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The affair between Edward and Mrs Simpson is the epicentre of a tale of a nation transfixed by the royal crisis whilst moving inexorably towards a catastrophic world war and a period of immense social change.

The new king risks his throne to hold onto the woman he loves, the most ruthless in society take their chance to seize wealth and power, and the elite conspire to preserve their centuries-old traditions.

London has been abuzz with gossip about the king’s affair with twice-divorced Wallis Simpson since British newspapers broke their silence.

But the monarch is not the only member of the aristocracy with overwhelming problems. Owen Montignac, the handsome and charismatic descendant of a wealthy land-owning family, is anxiously awaiting the reading of his late uncle’s will.

Owen, calculating and desperate, has run up huge gambling debts and casino boss Nicholas Delfy has given him a choice. He must find £50,000 by Christmas... or find himself six feet under. Fortunately for Owen, the Montignacs have always passed down their wealth through the male members of the family which puts him in direct line for the family fortune.

Meanwhile, Judge Roderick Bentley is facing a difficult decision. He must soon pass sentence in a sensational murder trial and there’s speculation about whether or not he will hand down the death penalty to 23-year-old defendant, Henry Domson.

As third cousin to the king and 27th in line to the throne, Domson is certain he will be spared execution. The judge has a son of the same age, a young man notorious for his ‘hedonism and gaiety.’ Surely Judge Bentley will take that into consideration?

When Owen discovers that he has been cut out of the will in favour of his beautiful cousin Stella, he knows it is time to prove just how cunning he can be. And Owen is nothing if not inventive. Even a royal crisis can provide the means for profit, and for murder...

Boyne artfully draws together the separate threads of his shifting story whilst painting a memorable portrait of the upper classes entrenched in their town houses, country estates and private clubs, and steadfastly refusing to countenance social change and their own inevitable decline.

Stylish and insightful, Next of Kin is a book of themes, dreams, ambition, cruelty ...and history both true and false. A fresh and fascinating read.

(Black Swan, paperback, £7.99)