THE IRON ROADS by Forbes Bramble
Kirkus Star


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Bramble again invades 19th-century London with his robust, contrapuntally vibrating social groupings and his delightfully pertinent research: this reconstruction of high-handed chicanery amid the period's industrial finance is a sequel to the Kelleway family-saga Regent Square (1977). The prime Kelleway in question here is 50-ish lawyer Henry--estranged from long-suffering wife Jane (whom he thinks he loves but has tired of) and lover of married Kate (whom he also thinks he loves). But Henry's professional life is even more fraught: his employer is George Hudson--the ""draper's son,"" the rapacious King of the Rails--and Hudson could call in Henry's shares in the Hudson lines at any time. So Henry, who prides himself on his reputation for integrity, must dutifully perform for Hudson (like a respected diplomat for a mad king), even while recoiling from Hudson's tactics: he collects small railroad lines, snatches property, outwits the competition, and is generally a master of baroque and shadowy manipulation. Eventually, however, Henry--reacting to Hudson's continued insults, a web of brilliant counter-deceptions by a Hudson foe, and a tragic train crash--gets on the rocky road to resignation and self-discovery: ""I strut about like a saint because I refuse to come to grips with the real red gore of things. . . ."" And while Henry finally returns to Jane, ending his ""drift,"" other Kelleways fumble, feud, and draw closer together: lonely sister Caroline dies, having never married the father of her son; troubled brother John, wed to unhappy, extravagant Louise from Virginia, is killed in military action; painter brother William is as pleasantly fatuous as ever; Caroline's son Edward, though titillated by his Aunt Louise, loves and weds cousin Nell; William's son Jonathan is crippled during a balloon descent; and Henry's son Frederick valiantly tries to smooth his father's rough times. With courts and pleasure gardens and the streets of London (plus a sly-puss account of a royal outing by Victoria and Albert), this is a strictly First-Class rail journey through Victoria's England, especially distinguished by all those intricate, solid details of financial funny business.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's