A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett
I love books that clamber for your time and attention, with compelling characters, a fast moving plot, and a world that wraps around you and draws you in. An author who can do that will be forever my friend and companion.
Now a disclaimer. I am an unapologetic anglophile. When I have a few spare days and a full piggy bank, you’ll find me in England, soaking in the theater and the sights of London, or wandering further afield to spots like Dartmouth, Oxford, Bath, and Cambridge. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a panorama of familiar history. Especially fascinating is how the upper classes of England lived in the bygone era before the First World War bled Europe white and forever changed society.
A Dangerous Fortune spans the lives of the Pilaster banking family from 1866 through 1892. But that’s only a very placid, two dimensional description. Time to throw in a twisting, turning plot of ambitious devilry pitted against honorable intentions, dangerous scoundrels against ethical men and women, upper classes, with their private clubs and scandalous wealth, against the lower classes living only a day from starvation.
I couldn’t put the damn thing down! Ken Follett is a fabulous storyteller who convinces you all is determined, until it suddenly isn’t, who paints his characters into impossible situations, then twists and turns around solutions the reader would never have guessed. “Oh, my god, what next?” is the question I constantly asked myself, just before I decided it wasn’t too late to read ‘just one more’ chapter! Wife is waiting on supper? Well, she’ll just have to wait! Supposed to join friends for wine? Looks like we’re going to be a tad bit late.
Yes, even in the undeviating society of the Victorian era, the upper and lower classes shared lives amid swirling pools of friction and enchantment. People’s fortunes did rise and fall. The rich got richer, or sometimes poorer. The poor sometimes rose ‘above their station.’
Hugh Pilaster, the black sheep of the powerful Pilaster banking family, is only able to survive though wit and ambitious intelligence and something more. He holds the keys to unlocking a dark family secret. He’s the member of the family who’s only tolerated because he is family and he knows too much. He also has unmatched business acumen.
But, Hugh, although central to the plot, is far from the only character of indelible traits. There’s the constant and skillful schemer, Aunt Augusta, her lackadaisical son, David, Hugh’s friends that bridge the gap between scandalous and forthright, and so many more actors of every stripe who populate this rip-roaring tale.
How can a book, written in 1993, and nearing 600 pages keep you glued and impatient to find out what happens? Think a plot and characters from the 19th Century must be dusty and uninteresting? Maybe you think ambition and scandal and the conflict between families and businesses and the rich and the poor are only found in history books and won’t ring true to the modern mind. Oh, are you in store for an eye-opening treat!
Ken Follett’s A Dangerous Fortune. Pick it up and you’ll hear the sound of horses’ hooves on London’s cobblestone streets, smell the cigars and leather in exclusive men’s clubs, see women as the powers behind the power… and be in for the ride of your life!