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Lloyd, author of a half-dozen volumes of popular history, gives a strong sense of place and time to this solid three-generation saga focusing on the British opium trade and the Opium Wars of 1840-1842. We begin with young Josh Bishop, who runs away from his home in the valley of Lowden and uses his wits and his way with figures to finagle backing for a voyage to China, where he sets up a post that will buy tea from Chinese before the mandarins have upped its price; he hopes to smuggle it into England and beat the tea tax. But things fall apart, and Josh finds himself trading in opium to get enough capital to buy a sizable shipment of tea. Back at Lowden with his new wealth, he marries young Peg and sets her up in a small house, carouses, runs out of cash, and goes back to opium trading for five years without telling his wife he's leaving. When he returns, again wealthy, she takes him in and their family grows. But Josh is killed by an ex-smuggler whose money he'd run off with, leaving the business to son Edward, who grows up very staid indeed, setting himself up as Bishop's Tea and hoping to fight the gin epidemic by selling tea at a low price everyone can afford. (He also takes in recovering drunks and gives them jobs while stumping for reform.) And at last Edward's son Joel is old enough to go to work for Bishop's Tea, beginning as a lowly clerk. But when Joel finds out that Bishop's Tea is still founded on opium traffic, he goes berserk, leaves home, and sets fire to his father's ships in China. A high moral tone and the thick, rich accuracy of the dialogue distinguish this from similar sagas--uninspired, perhaps, but a decent, safe bet in the crowded historical market.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan