The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing

Written by Mary Paulson-Ellis
Review by Jasmina Svenne

In 2016, down-on-his-luck heir hunter Solomon Farthing knows his only route out of debt is to track down the closest living relative of Thomas Methven, an elderly, apparently impoverished man found with £50,000 sewn into his burial suit. But Solomon is unaware that this case has direct links to his own inheritance. Meanwhile, in November 1918 Captain Godfrey Farthing and a small band of men are marking time in an isolated farmhouse, waiting for orders or the Armistice. But tensions between the men are being dangerously fanned by the arrogant 2nd Lieutenant Svenson…

There is so much to enjoy here: the quirky characterisation, the sardonic humour, the parallels between the two eras and the way certain objects – a pawn ticket, the burial suit, a cap badge of the London Scottish – change hands again and again. But I have one major problem with this novel. As someone who has read more than her fair share of World War I regimental diaries, personal diaries, letters and memoirs, none of the 1918 section rings true. I could forgive the minor errors – officers don’t have regimental numbers; a 1918 recruit would never be awarded a 1914/15 Star; the phrase “I counted them out and I counted them back in again” dates from the Falklands War; the shaky grasp of the army’s command structure (sections are commanded by NCOs; captains and subalterns are far too busy commanding companies and platoons). However, the situation that Godfrey’s men find themselves in is sheer military nonsense. Contrary to popular belief, World War I generals were not stupid enough to waste men on a position with no strategic importance.

I know most readers won’t pick up on this, but it strikes me as a pity to ruin such a magnificent ship for a ha’porth of tar.