Bloated beginning of a new Bradford saga about English tycoons.
Departing from the Harte series, which rode so profitably upon the coattails of A Woman of Substance (1979), this launch is strictly for Bradford devotees. The story opens in 1904 at Ravenscar, ancestral manor of Edward Deravenel, scion of an aristocratic Yorkshire family that lost control of Deravenels, a trading company dating from the Norman Conquest with worldwide outposts in mining, exporting, agriculture—and soon, oil. For 60-odd years, the Deravenel Grants, the Lancashire branch of the family, have dominated the firm, where Edward’s father, Richard, toils as an undercompensated executive. When Richard and his brother-in-law Rick, along with Edward’s brother and cousin, perish in a mysterious fire near Deravenels Tuscan marble quarry, Edward and his cousin Neville investigate, convinced the Grants had their relatives killed. The Tuscan murders can’t be traced to the Grants, nor can power-behind-the-throne Margot, wife of demented Chairman Henry Grant, be implicated in the ensuing mayhem. Edward is beset by thugs as he leaves his mistress Lily’s house in London, and Lily dies after a rampaging stallion upsets her carriage. Since Edward’s faction never lacks the wherewithal to topple the Grants, needing only to marshal the evidence of mismanagement, embezzlement and Henry’s mental incapacity, the murders—including a poisoning committed at Edward’s behest—seem beside the point, as do the perfunctory sex scenes between irresistible Edward and his ladyloves, and spitfire French temptress Margot and her company stooges. Dogged attention to detail of the dress, décor and grazing habits of the well-to-do make for a ponderous pace. Despite umpteen novels (Just Rewards, Jan. 2006, etc.), Bradford lacks finesse at getting her characters in and out of rooms.
A rote exercise in blockbuster-building.