A somewhat pedestrian British stroll through the career of the Carlson family during the years between the two great wars. Founder of the tiny dynasty (there will be a sequel) is James Carlson, born in poverty, raised up in the business world by his wits, arrogance, and good fortune. He deliberately sets out to advance into the world of ""gentlemen"" by marrying pallid Cecily, daughter of Sir Francis and Lady Isabella--but it's not a happy marriage. James grows weary of Cecily; Cecily is appalled by James' coarseness and brutality. And victim of the ensuing divorce is son Forbes--born with a crippled left hand and sent off to boarding schools (author Duncan, a retired headmaster, is caustic on the subject). At Oxford Forbes will become more involved with his near-stranger father and his many enterprises (and his many women); during the war Forbes, exempt because of his hand, marries actress Hazel (who dies in childbirth); and then Margaret Hartley, Forbes' only schooldays chum, reappears to care for him and Hazel's baby Bridget. More tragedy awaits, however: a German buzz bomb falls on the countryside, and Forbes, trying to rescue an associate, is blinded--and later decorated by the King. Except for a few amusing petit-point portraits of eccentrics and some palatial digs, this inches on at a very petty pace: slow indeed, and somewhat bloodless, but guaranteed to return, with the story of Forbes' and Margaret's son--Charles James.