Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Review: Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg

Normally if there's a murder in a book, I'm out. And if someone is framed for said murder, well I'm double out. But I guess if you couch it in enough fascinating historical detail (and describe the actual act of murder as little as possible), I'm willing to go along for the ride. This was very much the case for Alex Rosenberg's thrilling new novel, Autumn in Oxford.

Tom Wrought is a Pulitzer Prize winning academic at Oxford. He joined the Communist party when he was a very young man and despite having left the party long ago, faced enough problems in a US in the grips of McCarthyism to have decamped for Britain before his passport could be confiscated and his livelihood closed off to him. While in England, despite both of them being married, he falls in love with his neighbor, Liz Spencer, and they embark on an affair.  They might just be the love of each other's lives.  When Liz's husband is pushed in front of a Tube train, Tom is accused of his murder. What looks like a simple case of a love triangle ending in murder turns into something much more far reaching and politically disturbing once Tom's background as an OSS and then CIA spy comes to light.  It is up to Liz, Alice, the lawyer she hires, and Tom himself, to find out the truth about who framed Tom for the murder and why before it's too late.

Told from several different perspectives, Tom's, Liz's, and Alice, as well as several of the more minor characters, the novel covers a lot of political ground. Set in the late 1950s, when McCarthyism was at its height in the US, J. Edgar Hoover was in charge of the FBI, several high profile Brits had defected to the Soviet Union, espionage was rampant, and race relations in the US were incredibly volatile, the novel weaves a hypnotic story of the intertwining all of these varying facts and more. Rosenberg takes some little known or mostly forgotten historical happenings and ties them all together through his character of Tom Wrought. Choosing to have Tom write out his back story in a journal from prison as a way to help his lawyer try to uncover who might have a stake in framing Tom is an ingenious way to give the reader a lot of information that might not otherwise fit well in the framework of the story. The Cold War politics vital to the plot and Tom's relationship to them is revealed slowly and deliberately as the tension ratchets up. Liz and Alice, as the two main investigators in the race to clear Tom, are both written as strong and intelligent female character although there were times when Liz, in particular, seemed to act out of character as the mother of young children to whom she was devoted but perhaps her cloak and dagger investigation demanded this small anachronism. Over all, this was a riveting mystery/thriller. It will certainly appeal to anyone fascinated by the Cold War era and its spies, those who appreciate eminently plausible conspiracy theories, and those who enjoy a twisting, turning plot that keeps the reader guessing both where the plot is going and how much of the background is based on truth. History buffs will certainly leave this entertaining book looking for primary sources on at least a few things with which they aren't familiar.

For more information about Alex Rosenberg and the book, check out the Wikipedia page about him. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. How interesting that the author got you to go along with this story even though you generally avoid murder mysteries ... this must be a very different kind of book!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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