“The Ends of the Earth” is the third part of a trilogy set in the aftermath of World War One, for which it is strongly advised to read “The Ways of the World” and “The Corners of the Globe” in sequence first . Volume 3 opens with a group of James Maxted’s colleagues and a hired support team waiting in Yokohama for his arrival in order to embark on the dangerous mission of discovering exactly why his father, the diplomat Sir Henry was murdered. James aka Max also has a parallel task of thwarting the activities of the Moriaty-style villain, German spy-master Fritz Lemmer. Skip the rest of this sentence to avoid a spoiler if you have not read the previous two novels: Max’s friends are initially unaware that he was in the process of being murdered in Marseille at the end of Book 2.
The fiendish convolutions of Goddard’s plots are of course a large part of their attraction, but by the end of the second volume I was feeling quite unengaged: a tortuous chain of fairly stock violent episodes were becoming hard for me to want to bother to take in, not to mention the large number of characters of whom to keep track. I was also unimpressed by the author’s device of recapping on past events for Volume 2 by means of a highly condensed secret service report, too clunky and indigestible for my liking. So, I embarked on Volume 3 with no great enthusiasm, but was pleased to find that Goddard has done a better job of triggering memories of past events, by inserting brief reminders at suitable points. Even so, I would have found it useful to have for reference a brief separate summary of each previous volume together with a glossary of characters names and past roles.
Overall, I found this novel to have a sharper and more satisfactory plot than Volume 2, with Goddard’s gift for unexpected twists undiminished, together with crises and tense situations from which escape seems impossible. This story is as far-fetched as required of a mass market thriller, but it is set apart by the interesting detail on early C20 Japan, social, political and geographical – Goddard has taken pains to research Tokyo as it was before the Great Earthquake of 1923. He has also slipped in some Japanese dialogue for good measure. Amongst all the derring do and cliché, the main characters have moments of introspection and insight, so that the novel manages to be moving at times as well as an intriguing page-turner. The somewhat open-ended conclusion appeals to me, although if it leads to a fourth volume, I think the author would have done better to revert to a one-off novel with fresh characters, focussing on a single issue, full of twists, of course.
On reflection, I think Goddard's earlier novels had more depth, but even if his current output is more patchy and commercially-orientated, he is still capable of spinning a good twisty yarn.