|Paperback Back and front cover|
This work about the fictional Pilaster banking family begins in 1866...from the beginning, Follet sets a scene that will work its way through generations and the primary characters. Page 1, ""On the day of the tragedy, the boys of Windfield School had been confined to their rooms. It was a hot Saturday in May and they would normally have spent the afternoon on the south field, some playing cricket and others watching from the shady fringes of Bishop's Wood. But a crime had been committed. Six gold sovereigns had been stolen from the desk of Mr. Offerton, the Latin master, and the whole school was under suspicion." In another few lines we meet Micky Miranda and Edward Pilaster, two friends, students. Their friendship will remain lifelong through years and events and the attachment will become deadly over decades.
I enjoy Follet's works and this one was first published in 1993. His characters are reflective of all human traits, good and bad, adorable and detestable. It's difficult to pin one word to the genre, some reviews reference "political and amorous intrigue, cold blooded murder, gripping complex plot, fascinating characters, financial crises" but consistently reviews applaud "old fashioned entertainment."
Hugh Pilaster is the unworthy cousin whose father died disgraced and who is generously taken in by his uncle Joseph and aunt Augusta, a character who makes Cruella deVille seem angelic. But Hugh is the essence of a man who will always do the right thing, while cousin Edward, son of Augusta and Joseph is a weak character at best, a pervert at worst. Kind of a Cinderella tale of male cousins, and in the end good triumphs. The story based in London, reaches to a fictional South American country, Cordova, and the nitrate mines there amidst extreme political disruptions. Scenes weave from ballrooms to board rooms to brothels to the exclusive men's clubs in London. The Pilaster family legacy of success holds intrigue, deception, tragedy, triumph all the while reflective of wealth of the times, the influences, and the impact of markets across the ocean in America and globally. Besides Augusta, Mickey Miranda is a true devious villain character and another one who opposes Hugh. There are several other characters all with different attributes. What I enjoy about Follett's work is his characters are revealed in depth, they are lifelike, some detestable, some shaky, some likeable. Humanity portrayed back in time perhaps not so different today..
The last lines of the novel, "But it was over now. The debts were paid. If there had been an evil spirit it had returned to the bottom of the pond. And Hugh had survived. He stood up. It was time to return to his family. He walked away, then took a last look back. The ripples fom the stone had disappeared and the surface of the water was immaculately still once again. "
This is a 5 ***** read, an excellent novel that kept my attention til the end.