This is my review of The Ways of the World: (The Wide World – James Maxted 1) by Robert Goddard.
This old-style escapist page-turner contains Goddard's trademarks of a serpentine plot and cast of mainly stereotyped characters with apparent "goodies" who can never quite be trusted and "baddies" who sometimes come unexpectedly to the rescue.
Perhaps because he is at heart a historian, his books seem to work best when set in the past, as here in the Paris of the 1919 Peace Conference where aristocratic pilot Max pursues the mystery of his diplomat father's sudden violent death. After surviving World War 1 against the odds, Max discovers a kind of addiction to risk-taking, which will carry him on to further adventures in the planned trilogy.
Having recently visited Paris, I appreciated Goddard's attention to detail in the geographical setting of every scene – as when Max and a colleague drive down to the Seine by the Trocadero to look across at the Eiffel Tower. He even checked the weather to know that the Paris spring for 1919 was exceptionally cold and snowy.
I was unconvinced by Max's relationship with the Moriaty-type arch villain in the background, but it is best not to expect every twist to be plausible. Also, his driven courting of death eventually makes Max a less appealing hero, but perhaps this gives the plot a little more depth.
Goddard has clearly taken a risk himself with his loyal readers by ending the book "to be continued" with so many loose strands for two future novels. After the rollercoaster of his plots one is always left feeling a little let down at the last page. In this case, he contrives to resolve enough mystery to satisfy the reader "for the time being" but dangle sufficient intrigue to encourage them to return for more. It's a moot point whether it would have been better to make the novel appear more "self-contained".