An inviting dilemma-popping tale detailing the considerable time-after-time misfortunes of a Victorian family from the 1830's on—and the cheerfully impossible chances that bring resolutions— by the author of several novels published in the 1950's and 60's (including the movie-and-TV-sitcom-bound Belvedere). The Wrox-Hampdens, situated in their massive, ill-kept estate, are a grim-to-restless lot. With much pain and distaste, Maria, wife of slovenly horse-and-hounds squire Arthur, has given birth to twins. She soon sees to it that infant Edward is given to a relative to be raised by a severe, thick-skulled cleric and his horrid wife; and at the age of three, Letty will be stolen by gypsies. Meanwhile, eldest daughter Lucy, rangy and disagreeable, mellows with a chum—James, 7th Viscount Edge—and indulges in friendly sex; pregnancy, of course, is the result. This ends the friendship of Maria and Lady Edge, James's dutiful mother; sends Maria, Lucy, and pretty daughter Marietta to Rome (where one finds death); and brings into delightful proximity (all by chance) Marietta and James. Back home, the local sleuthing constable credits squire Arthur's demise to a malicious ghost—a direful event following close after Arthur's rape of sweet governess Elsie. Her rescue is achieved by the upright tutor Osbert (one of the few stout oaks amid the weak reeds here). Son Arthur takes over and deftly handles younger siblings' messes; nasty secrets are finally aired. As for the twins, are they forever gone? Of course not. Despite shameless use of coincidence, and not particularly endearing people: an entertaining and engrossing period tale in which all goes wrong and finally all goes right.
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