” It was almost as if something evil had come up out of the deep water that day in 1866 and entered their lives, bringing all the passions that had blighted their lives, hatred and greed and selfishness and cruelty; fomenting deceit, bankruptcy, disease and murder. ” (567-8)
A Dangerous Fortune is a novel about good and evil, power and greed, and the far-reaching consequences of one’s actions. It opens in 1866 at an idyllic English boarding school where Hugh Pilaster, who belongs to a rising London banking family, witnesses what is officially termed the accidental drowning of a school chum. This crucial but nebulous event dictates series of treachery that span the next three decades and entwine many lives. The accident involves a small circle of boys that includes Hugh’s cousin Edward Pilaster and his sleazy South American friend, Micky Miranda. Did they try to save the struggling Peter Middleton—or did they hasten his end?
The Pilasters own Pilasters Bank, which preside over London as one of the wealthiest banks in the world. They are pivotal and influential in the high society at the time. Hugh is the son of a Pilaster who went bankrupt and committed suicide. The black sheep in the family, a poor relation at the mercy of his wealthy uncle Joseph, he suffers from the malicious scheming carried out by his cunning, social-climbing Aunt Augusta in favor of her son Edward and the potential benefits to be gained for her branch of the family, its power and position in society. Every step of the way she thwarts his prospect and success because Hugh, with his natural talents and business acumen, is a threat to Edward, who is lazy and lacks initiative and drive.
Augusta’s decoys don’t make a novel, although Hugh’s comeback is always inspiring. Soon the book gains momentum as Micky Miranda, who is later implicated in multiple murders, is determined to finance his bloodthirsty father’s takeover of a struggling South American nation. Believing that Micky has a potentially lethal hold over Edward in the drowning incident, Augusta, who also yields her sexual passion to the young man, pairs up with him to clear any block come his way to finance his home country—from the sales of rifles, dubious railway construction, to war. The circle of treachery, the hapless Hugh and his constant struggle, the slimy Micky who kills to eradicate any barrier, the low-class Maisie who rises to become the toast of English society—all weld into a relentlessly suspenseful plot in which good triumphs over evil, randy men die of syphilis, and thwarted lovers live to love again.
A Dangerous Fortune is a plot-driven thriller with many giddy leaps and convolution. Aside from a few mention of suffrage and glimpses of clothing and interior designs, the book reveals little about the Victorians. It’s more a plot-driven book set in that period. It does draw parallels with the current day and the global financial crisis. It’s remarkable how little has changed in over a century and how little we have learned when it comes to financial probity. Maybe human nature—the greed and hunger for power—has never changed.
568 pp. Dell/Bantam. Pocket Paper. [Read/
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