The Website of Tim Stretton
The novel was written during eight months in 1997.
The name of the leading character, Lamarck, deliberately echoes that of Lanarck, the protagonist of Jack Vance's first published story ('The World Thinker' , 1945).
Two of the characters are based on unsympathetic former bosses.
A short story involving Lamarck, entitled 'Item 15', was published in the Cosmopolis Literary Supplement.
The Zael Inheritance is set in the far future. Geir Lamarck is an investigator with Pangalactic Security Services, and when he takes on an assignment to track down the claimant to the Zael fortune with his partner Kate Voorhies, it soon becomes apparent that everything is not what it seems. Lamarck attempts to win the confidence of Laura Glyde, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the missing heiress — but who is manipulating whom?
The search for answers leads Lamarck into unhappy echoes of his past, and strains personal and professional relationships. The resolution is one he could never have expected.
The novel represents my first serious attempt at a work of fiction, and as such commands a high place in my affections. Despite certain structural defects, it achieves much of what I'd hoped when I began it.
It is unlikely ever to see the light of commercial publication, but as an attempt to fuse the distanced ironic style of Jack Vance with an undercurrent of Raymond Chandler it does not seem to me an outright failure.
The extract below is from the start of Chapter 6, and remains the passage from the novel I still enjoy the most.
A more detailed self-assessment of The Zael Inheritance, and a study of its influences, is given in the essay Setting the Standard. Read a review of the novel by Paul Rhoads here.
The Zael Inheritancewas serialised in the Cosmopolis Literary Supplement. The illustration below by Paul Rhoads accompanied Chapter 14.
Lamarck arrived by auto-tram at the Grand Duchess Anastasia Hotel, the most exclusive on the planet. The building was not large – the number of folk willing and able to pay its rates at any one time was not copious – but it achieved without effort the élan which the Tower of Commerce could never hope to approach.
Only six storeys high, it was loosely modelled on a country house of old Earth, with a ramshackle mixture of architectural styles and spacious grounds. Set in countryside away from the city, it aimed for a pastoral ideal which it missed only by a hair’s breadth. The impression was of an ancestral home evolving over the centuries as one generation after another added to the original, although it had been designed in one unit and was less than 150 years old.
Not simply an icon of design, the Grand Duchess Anastasia embodied in its social attitudes all the reserve and punctilio calculated to lend an air of exclusivity. Expensive – even exorbitant, according to some – as its rates were, mere money was insufficient to command respect at the Anastasia. The parvenu might choose to stay once: he would be unlikely to make a return visit. The appearance of, say, a lizardskin girl would be unimaginable.
Lamarck was not one to endorse the social philosophy of the Anastasia, nor of such exalted status as to command automatic respect there; nonetheless, as a Pangalactic operative, he was accorded co-operation, if not cordiality, so long as his behaviour remained within reasonable bounds. Visiting dignitaries, not always popular folk, invariably stayed at the Anastasia, and Pangalactic’s security services were often of use. Both organisations acknowledged their symbiotic relationship.
Lamarck therefore did not attract the disdain that his everyday status might have warranted when he presented himself at the main reception. In the cool of the early evening he wore his sober dark suit, a reassurance to the management of the hotel that he intended no offences against their stylistic conventions. He stepped across the spacious lobby, tiled in a discreet black and white pattern, and spoke to the Head Clerk.
“Good evening, Mr Festig,” he said. “I am here to see Miss Laura Glyde.”
Festig, middle-aged and seemingly deliberately, even flagrantly, staid, had a reasonable acquaintance with Lamarck, and considered him largely sound but a trifle indecorous: almost a compliment by his Olympian standards.
“Good evening, Prime Apprehensor Lamarck. I trust you are in good health?” said Festig with formal courtesy.
“So I am, thank you. Your own health is, I hope, as rude as when we last met?” responded Lamarck, who generally found it expedient to introduce no new conversational topic when dealing with the Anastasia’s staff.
Festig appeared puzzled by the notion that an employee of the Anastasia might have health of any sort, good or bad, while on duty.
“Thank you for your concern,” he said, evading the invitation to reveal even such mild personal information as the state of his health. “I will inform Miss Glyde that you are here, Prime Apprehensor.”
“Before you do, Festig, perhaps you would answer one or two questions.
This is Pangalactic rather than personal business.”
Festig arranged his eyes and mouth to suggest that he could never seriously have envisaged Lamarck having personal business at the Anastasia. “Questions?”
“I am interviewing Miss Glyde in connection with an enquiry. Naturally I am concerned to validate her general reliability in deciding what weight to give her evidence.”
“Prime Apprehensor, I do not believe that this establishment would be a residence for an unreliable person,” said Festig stiffly.
“The reputation of the Anastasia is of course peerless, and the distinction of its clientele unchallenged: nonetheless even within the most distinguished gentility, there are varying strata of exaltation. I am merely attempting to ascertain – drawing on your unparalleled opportunity to observe the flower of many worlds – Miss Glyde’s exact place.”
“Your desire to cultivate this discrimination is a commendable one, and often lacking, if I may say, among the younger generation.”
Lamarck bowed his head in acknowledgement, although Festig’s phraseology admitted of more than one interpretation.
“What, then, of Miss Glyde?” he asked determinedly.
“I should not, of course, discuss the affairs of clients. I speak, of course, in a purely personal capacity, and only out of a desire to co-operate with the planetary security services.”
“I understand. Please continue on those terms,” said Lamarck with the beginnings of impatience.
“Miss Laura Glyde is at home in the society of the Grand Duchess Anastasia,” pronounced Festig in even and well-modulated tones. He then fell silent.
After a pause, Lamarck said, “Yes? I do not doubt the truth of your statement: but a greater degree of insight, even imagination, might be helpful.”
“If there is a lack of imagination, Prime Apprehensor, it is on your part. It is not everyone who can merge with the customs of this hotel. The Grand Duchess Anastasia is a family, and an exclusive one. In saying that Miss Glyde is a part of this family, I say far more than might be conveyed in many more ill-chosen words,” said Festig with an air of ineffable superiority.
“While on a philosophical level there is much in what you say,” replied Lamarck, “the Pangalactic officer employs less refined analysis in his investigations. He is eager to know: does an individual act suspiciously? does she receive visitors? are any other aspects of her conduct noteworthy?”
“The world of the Pangalactic operative would appear to be a glut of crude sensation and base suspicion. While Pangalactic fulfils a valuable social function, I am not sure I would care to be acquainted with its procedures.
“In response to your specific queries: I have never ‘suspected’ Miss Glyde of ill-breeding, or even of less heinous taints such as criminality; you are, to my knowledge, the first visitor she has received; and it is not the place of a Head Clerk to regard a client’s behaviour as noteworthy.”
Lamarck considered that he had as much information as he was likely to extract from the polished functionary. “Thank you for the deliberation of your responses. I would appreciate it if you could inform Miss Glyde that I am here.”
Festig stepped into a private com-link booth and paged Laura Glyde’s room.
“Miss Glyde is expecting you. She is in Room 216 on the second
floor. Please go up.”