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Briggs (The Partners, A Pinch of Spices) provides a fascinating look into the inner workings of the august Lloyd's of London in this otherwise uneventful tale of an insurance scarm by a Greek shipbuilder. The place is London, the time is 1963. Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, and Profumo himself dominate the tabloids, but young straight-arrow Martin Coley cares not a whit for scandal: he's an up-and-coming insurance underwriter at Lloyd's of London, where stiff upper lips are the order of the day, and even the rawest of recruits is addressed as Sir. Intent on making his way and obliterating the memory of his alcoholic mother (who runs a string of cigarette stands), Martin works hard, impresses his boss, Ivor Murchison, and eventually even marries Lucinda Murchison, thus securing his position--or so he thinks, except that there are forces afoot that will soon undermine him. Martin's ""common"" upbringing sets him apart at the parties Lucinda makes him attend (""Soon the room was full, with the baying of the upper-middle classes spilling out through the open windows into the narrow, dainty street""); and after Ivor's sudden death by a heart attack, Lucinda takes up with a baronet. In the meantime, a Greek shipbuilder named Laertes Vathos is planning on deliberately scuttling his new supertanker, the Katherina Vathos, in order to cover disastrous losses, and Martin's buddy, Toby Blackett, has taken up with an evil financier named Trevor Bleach, who is secretly taking over London's business world. In the end, Vathos gets four million dollars of Lloyd's money, Bleach and Blackett are successful, and poor Martin, blamed by everyone, is out on the street--literally, running one of his mother's cigarette stands. ""I'm sorry, Mrs. Dixon,"" he tells an inquisitive patron while wearing a ""gentle smile,"" ""I'm afraid I can't be of assistance. I'm only a news agent: I know nothing about insurance."" In sum: run-of-the-mill when dealing with sunken oil tankers and Greeks bearing gifts, but probing and at times brilliant when it comes to the nasty world of insurance and Martin's destruction by London's old-boy system.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Secker & Warburg--dist. by David & Charles