Jordan Weiss is falling apart. After receiving a letter from a friend living in London who is slowly deteriorating from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Jordan transfers her post as an Intelligence Officer with the U.S. State Department to a branch overseas in London. Jordan has deep reservations about going back to London since her college boyfriend, Jared Short, drowned there just as they were graduating from Oxford 10 years earlier.
Before she can even get settled properly, Chris Bannister, an old friend of her’s and Jared’s, looks her up for help investigating Jared’s death from all those years before. Convinced there’s more to Jared’s death- he thinks their old friend was murdered.
Pam Jenoff’s Almost Home started off a little slowly for me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to accept Jordan as a viable member of the intelligence community. In the beginning of the novel, as she is adjusting to life back in London she makes several mistakes that just seemed preposterous for her to make at this point in her career. Even though she has returned to a place that holds many painful memories, I expected that as an intelligence officer she would cover better since their instincts have to be firmly trained on gathering information and survival (her boss pulls several strings to make sure that she can carry a concealed weapon at all times overseas). It really bugged me that she was so flaky and unprofessional after having been described as one of the best in her field.
Jenoff alternates between Jordan’s present and past, so at some points I was able to put aside my reservations about Jordan as a character, and when I could there was a lot about the novel that I enjoyed. Jenoff skillfully creates the environment where Jordan is visiting old haunts and acclimatizing herself to being back in London. It was nice to read the observances of the differences in the U.S./U.K. cultural institutions- like bars and supermarkets, and to see the Cambridge campus and the customs of the different colleges within the university. I learned a lot about the rivalries among the different colleges at Cambridge and quite a bit about the sport of rowing- at times just a tad bit more than I wanted to know (if you are into rowing, you will love all the detail!).
The mystery of Jared’s death was another part of the book that I found intriguing. Jordan and Chris soon discover that the reserved and secretive Jared had been doing groundbreaking research into World War II. As Jordan juggles keeping an eye on her sick friend, working her case for the Intelligence Office, negotiating romantic entanglements and her investigation with Chris into Jordan’s death, she starts looking up people in her past and asking questions about both investigations. It soon becomes apparent that she doesn’t know whom to trust and if and how the cases might connect to each other. Files are stolen and her life is imperiled more than once as she runs into all sorts of dead ends.
The World War II thread of the story and the evolution of Jordan and Jared’s relationship at Cambridge, and just their college experiences in themselves were high points of the novel for me. The surprises throughout the story kept me invested in turning the pages to see what was going to happen next and I found the mystery to be intriguing and satisfying. Though I had my issues with Jordan I thoroughly enjoyed reading about London, Cambridge and an angle of World War II that I had never considered, and by the last hundred pages or so I was totally hooked!
I could have accepted the ending, but I am excited to know that there is a sequel called Hidden Things. Sweet! I hate waiting when I want to know the next part of the story. Maybe that is why it is so easy for me to not watch TV. Always waiting for the next part.