This book is this month’s Hodderscape Review Project title. I read and reviewed the book a few years ago. Here’s what I thought. For the project I read the sequel, The Rapture
The First Stone is a solid noir thriller, featuring a gritty private eye, pithy dialogue and a gorgeous femme-fatale. So far, so ordinary. What sets this book apart from the multitude of other gumshoe novels is its setting: A near-future where the USA stagnates under a Christian Fundamentalist dictatorship.
When a prominent religious evangelist is found dead, Felix Strange is called in to investigate. Strange, an atheist of Jewish descent, knows he’s an odd choice for the job, and when told to keep his investigation under-wraps, he is surely being pulled into something more dubious than a simple murder. After debunking the obvious set-up crime scene, Strange becomes embroiled in a web of deceit and skulduggery.
Elliott Hall’s portrayal of America’s slide into an oligarchy, ruled by the mysterious ‘Council of Elders’, is all to plausible. He describes a nation gripped by fear and paranoia; a nation manipulated by the Council to maintain their absolute power. America is crippled by sanctimony and fear of persecution. Just as in Stalin’s Russia, neighbours are encouraged to inform on one another. Against this, what chance the individual? In a world that parallels that of 1984, in order to solve his case, Strange must challenge the status quo. Hall’s prose is terse and tight, reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. The First Stone is an invigorating read.
The climax of the novel, though exciting was a little too convoluted for my taste. A few too many twists – there are a number of fictional factions each with a vested interest in the case, and I found it difficult to follow (or indeed care that much) who stood to gain the most from the victim’s murder. That said, ‘The First Stone’ is top drawer speculative fiction and a fine Private Investigator novel. I look forward to volume two.
This review first appeared on Amazon.co.uk in Feb 2010