Read Ha'penny Online

Authors: Jo Walton

Tags: #Alternative History, #Mystery & Detective, #General


BOOK: Ha'penny
12.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Praise for

“Convincing and thought-provoking enough to make one ask ‘Could that be me? My country?’ ”


“Masterfully illustrates how fear can overwhelm common sense, while leaving hope for a resurgence of popular bravery and an end to dictatorial rule.”

Publishers Weekly

“Exciting . . . Brilliantly plays sympathies back and forth between conspirators and the police.”

The Denver Post

“Masterful work . . . This is political suspense at its best and brightest.”


—and for

“If le Carré scares you, try Jo Walton. Of course her brilliant story of a democracy selling itself out to fascism sixty years ago is just a mystery, just a thriller, just a fantasy—of course we know nothing like that could happen now. Don’t we?”

—Ursula K. Le Guin

“Amazing . . . One of the most compelling and chilling books of the year.”

Romantic Times BOOKreviews

“Stunningly powerful . . . While the whodunit plot is compelling, it’s the convincing portrait of a country’s incremental slide into fascism that makes this novel a standout. Mainstream readers should be enthralled as well.”

Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“Succeeds in almost too many ways to count. The most meaningful parahistorical novel I’ve come across in a long time, succinct and rivetingly readable.”

—Robert Charles Wilson, author of

“A stiff-upper-lip whodunit boasting political intrigue and uncomfortable truths about anti-Semitism.”

Entertainment Weekly

“Is there anything Jo Walton can’t write? . . . It’s a clear-eyed, passionate meditation on universal themes: injustice, civil liberties, the fear of the outsider. No wonder it reads as if it was written just this morning.”

—Lisa Goldstein,

“A quietly convincing horror, a tale of a world that might have been and that we’re damned lucky we never really saw. Read it, think about it, and count your blessings.”

—Harry Turtledove, author of
The Guns of the South

“Beneath the facade of a classic English country-house mystery, Jo Walton unfolds a disturbing tale about how easily freedom can be let drift away. . . . This is a thought-provoking story that kept coming back to trouble my thoughts long after I had read the last chapter.”

—Jane Lindskold

“A wonderful book, simultaneously a gripping mystery and a harrowing cautionary tale. Walton’s credible—and entirely convincing—alternative history becomes a terrifying meditation on class, power, and persecution. I only wish it seemed more like science fiction.”

—Susan Palwick

starts out as a cozy period house-party mystery, becomes a brilliant alternate history yarn, and at last reveals itself to be a chilling cautionary political thriller. It’s smart, riveting, and deeply moving. Once you start reading, don’t plan to put it down.”

—Emma Bull






The King’s Peace
The King’s Name
The Prize in the Game
Tooth and Claw
Half a Crown





Jo Walton







NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


Copyright © 2007 by Jo Walton

The quotation on page xi from
Gaudy Night
by Dorothy L. Sayers is copyright © 1935 by Dorothy L. Sayers and is used by kind permission of the author’s estate and of the publisher, HarperCollins.

All rights reserved.

Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden

A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7653-5808-0
ISBN-10: 0-7653-5808-5

First Edition: October 2007
First Mass Market Edition: July 2008

Printed in the United States of America

0   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1


This is for Tom Womack,
of Winchester, Oxford, and Ploktacon, who has
the courage of his convictions.



Sometimes, truth is sufficiently stranger than fiction that it becomes hard to believe. I would like to note that the IRA bombing campaign of 1939 is historical, and so is the case of the German bomb accidentally dropped in Dublin. In some other cases I’ve started from truth and moved it towards plausibility, because this isn’t the real world, thank goodness. Generally I have as far as possible used real names of people who don’t have speaking parts in the narrative, like Winston Churchill, but fictionalized names and lives of those who do.

Thanks to my LiveJournal correspondents for coming up with fast answers to odd questions, particularly Tim Illingworth and David Dyer-Bennet, and for cheering me on while I was writing this (

Thanks to Lis Riba for asking a useful question, to Emmet O’Brien for diligently checking my Hiberno-English, to Patrick Nielsen Hayden for taking time out on a busy morning to be helpful and for always being a great editor, to Mary Lace for reading this as fast as it was being written and making helpful suggestions, to the production people at Tor for doing a really good job on all my books so far, to Janet Kegg for finding and sending me Anne de Courcy’s
1939: The Last Season
, to Sarah Monette for alerting me to the existence of
Five and Eighty Hamlets
, without which I’d probably never have thought of this story, and to Sherwood Smith, Laura Tennenhouse, David Goldfarb, Madeline Kelly, David Dyer-Bennet, Jennifer Arnott, and Janet Kegg for beta-reading.

I’d also like to thank the late W. T. Roberts of Ynys-y-Bwl for keeping every program from every performance of every theatrical event he went to throughout his long life, and Mary Lace for giving me access to the ones from the era covered in this novel. They contain marvels nobody could make up and are like a whiff of the real theater world of the time. I’m glad to say they are now collected in the University of Leicester for the benefit of anyone else who wants to use them.





Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!

—Traditional British children’s rhyme


“When I was a lad,” replied the foreman, “young ladies was young ladies. And young gentlemen was young gentlemen. If you get my meaning.”

“What this country wants,” said Padgett, “is a ’Itler.”

—Dorothy L. Sayers,
Gaudy Night



hey don’t hang people like me. They don’t want the embarrassment of a trial, and besides, Pappa is who he is. Like it or not, I’m a Larkin. They don’t want the headline “Peer’s Daughter Hanged.” So much easier to shut me away and promise that if I keep very quiet they’ll release me as cured into my family’s custody in a year or two. Well, I may have been an awful fool, but I’ve never been saner, and besides, I can’t stand most of my family. I’ve never had the slightest intention of keeping quiet. That’s why I’m writing this. I hope someone someday might get the chance to read it. Pay attention. I’m going to tell you the important things, in order.

It started in the most innocuous way, with a job offer.

“You are the only woman I can truly imagine as Hamlet, Viola.” Antony gazed into my eyes across the table in a way which someone must have told him was soulful and irresistible, but which actually makes him look like a spaniel that needs worming. He was one of London’s best-known actor managers, very distinguished, quite fifty years old, and running a little to fat. It was an honor to be given one of Antony’s famous lunches, always tête-à-tête, always at the Venezia in Bedford Street, and always culminating, after the mouthwatering dessert, in the offer of a leading role.

That was the year that everyone was doing theater cross-cast. It was 1949, eight years after the end of the war. London’s theaters were brightly lit, and full of the joys and struggles of life. Palmer did it first, thex year before, putting on
The Duke of Malfi
at the Aldwych. Everyone said it would be a fizzle at best, but we all went to see how they did it, out of curiosity. Then, with Charlie Brandin getting raves as the Duke, Sir Marmaduke jumped on the bandwagon and did Barrie’s old
Quality Street,
with all the men as women and all the women men. It was the success of the winter, so when plays were being picked for the summer season, of course there was hardly a house playing things straight.

I’d scoffed as much as anyone, or more, so much in fact that I’d turned down a couple of parts and thought of leaving town and lying low for a little. But if I left, where could I go? London theater was putting up a brave struggle against the cinema, a struggle already lost elsewhere. Theater in the provinces was at its last death rattle. When I was starting out, a London play would be toured all over the country, not by the London cast but by a second-string company. There might be two or three tours of the same play, the second company doing Brighton and Birmingham and Manchester, and the third doing a circuit of Cardiff and Lancaster and Blackpool. The deadliest tours played at every tiny place, crossing the country by train on a Sunday, staying in the most appalling digs. It was the way you started out, and if you were better known and wanted a rest from London, the second companies were panting to snap you up. But since the war tours were rare, and there was fierce competition for them. There was only London, and the occasional tryout elsewhere. People in the provinces could just whistle for theater. They were starved of it entirely. I can’t think how they managed. Amateur productions and coming up to London when they could afford it, I suppose. Either that or they really were quite happy with the cinema instead.

In any case, there was no hope of a tour for me. If I didn’t work, I could afford to lie quiet for a season, if I lived carefully. The problem was that I couldn’t count on it being only one season. The theater lives from moment to moment, and once your name isn’t seen it can easily be forgotten. I didn’t want to leave acting, and besides, what was I supposed to do, starve? Well, the choice would be to starve or go back to my family, which would, I felt sure, be much worse than starving. My family are like cannibals, except that they wear pearls and diamonds instead of necklaces of skulls.

I gave Antony one of my best indecisive glances. Indecisive glances would be helpful if I took the part. Hamlet is famously indecisive. Besides, even if my friends did laugh at me for a few days, how often is anyone given the chance to play Hamlet? I’d gone along for lunch with Antony knowing it meant a good meal, almost sure I’d turn down whatever he offered me. Antony was never stingy, and the wine at the Venezia was always good. Hamlet, though. There are so few truly good women’s parts in the world, and Hamlet was a dream of a role, as long as the cross-casting didn’t make the whole play absurd. I could picture the lights already:

BOOK: Ha'penny
12.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Earl Who Loved Me by Bethany Sefchick
No Flame But Mine by Tanith Lee
The Duke’s Desire by Margaret Moore
Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch, Nicholas Briggs, Terry Molloy
Outcasts by Sarah Stegall
Medicine Men by Alice Adams
Lying Together by Gaynor Arnold