A Dangerous Fortune
by Ken Follett
Banks and bankers are in the news a lot. Usually it’s bad news: the directors and presidents get obscene bonuses; they manipulate the tax system; they crash and leave millions of people out of pocket. Rarely do the newspapers carry stories about the honest bankers and their shareholders – the employees who work pretty hard for a modest salary, the shareholders who expect a little bit of income when the bank does really well in the markets.
I’ll get off the political soapbox now! I’ve just finished reading a novel about banks and bankers, so that short paragraph was by way of introduction to my review. Mr Follett kindly sent a copy of the book to me because I had bought the hardback version of his latest novel Edge of Eternity -see https://bookheathen.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/the-day-the-earth-stood-still.
A Dangerous Fortune is set during the second half of the nineteenth century and features an English banking family called the Pilasters. The story begins with a mysterious drowning at the boys’ public school attended by Edward and Hugh Pilaster, who are first cousins. Hugh is the poor relation, his father having broken with his relatives to set up on his own before going bust in a recession and committing suicide.
As the novel progresses and the characters develop, it becomes clear that Hugh is the one with a real talent for banking while Edward is something of a wastrel, under the influence of his domineering mother, Augusta, and his sinister South American friend, Micky Miranda. Augusta is ambitious both for herself and for her son and continually devises schemes to bring Hugh down. Micky is at the beck and call of his gangster – and would-be president – father, Papa Carlos, who needs money for guns to start a revolution.
A second group of characters are represented by the Robinson family, reduced to poverty as a result of the Pilaster bankrupcy. When their father loses his job, Maisie Robinson earns a living as a trick rider while Danny, her brother, emigrates to America. When Hugh falls in love with Maisie, Augusta finally sees the opportunity to rid herself of Hugh for good.
Several murders and several marriages later, the truth of that school tragedy finally emerges and [so it seems] the various heros and villains get their just desserts.
A Dangerous Fortune as a historical novel does not have the scope of Follett’s Century Trilogy but already one can see in it an embryo Fall of Giants. The author is not afraid to address social, religious or sexual issues. Here, he deals with anti-semitism, prostitution and social class in ways that do not detract from the thriller/mystery element of his work. I’ve said in other reviews how much I like Follett’s writing and this novel was no exception. I don’t always agree with his political stance but that does not prevent my enjoying the journey.