The Ends of the Earth

Written by Robert Goddard

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


The Ends of the Earth
Bantam
RRP: £18.99 / £9.02
Released: July 2, 2015
Hbk / Kindle

Depending on how you count them, there are either three or four ends of the earth in this concluding volume of Robert Goddard's 'Wide World Trilogy': they are the ends of a line between London, England and Tokyo, Japan on the one side, and the ends of a line between Germany and Japan on the other.

In the first connection James 'Max' Maxted is investigating the international implications of his diplomat father's death and the disappearance of his mother (having to identify his true mother on the way), while on the other super-villains from both Germany and Japan aim to stop Maxted, to advance the plans that caused Maxted Senior's death, to revenge themselves on Maxted and his team for the various insults they have suffered on the way, and to help their nations collaborate in their nascent but evil intentions (remember that Japan had been an ally of Britain and France in the First World War).

This series, though, will not be to everyone's taste. If you were brought up to think there are four tastes in the mouth and have been surprised now that food scientists talk about a fifth, umami, which was first identified in Japanese soup (appropriately for this review; though it was at a coffee-tasting that it was first pointed out to me), then you will have some basis for the comparison. Goddard's style is to race through adventures, to make his scenes simultaneously strange and unremarkable, and to avoid emotion even in extreme circumstances. This means that Maxted and his hired hands operate in a way little different to Bulldog Drummond and his pals, even though this feels nothing like a Bulldog Drummond thriller.

Trying to avoid spoilers, but providing an example, the death of a child provokes little response, though it would provide the motivation for a complete novel in other authors. Or, on a more mundane level, the Europeans walk through even the back streets of Japanese towns and cities without comment, yet visitors to the Far East tell me they provoke interest even today. The difference in height between Europeans and Japanese would have been even greater then than now  - the agents wishing to disappear would have towered over everyone in the street.

On the other hand, Goddard has some interesting history: not everyone in Japan is evil, and Maxted's men are saved for a time by the rivalry between the police and the kempeitai (the secret police who combined the intelligence of the Gestapo and the cruelty of the SS), giving some of the team the possibility (soon to be lost through invasion) of escape to China.

In style and setting this reminded me of Tom Bradby's 2002 detective thriller The Master Of Rain, set in Shanghai in 1926, which also seems to keep its distance and to consist of episodes which are quickly closed. If you liked the exoticism of that then The Ways Of The World, The Corners Of The Globe and The Ends Of The Earth could be for you. It is a matter of taste.

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