A glamorous, risk-addicted clique at Cambridge seduces a social misfit into a criminal act that will come back to haunt him.
Stourton’s debut treads a charmless path in its observation of a dull outsider’s magnetized attraction to a reckless and morally questionable group of beautiful people. Friendless James, old-fashioned in demeanor and short on charisma, finds himself pulled into the secret circle of the Tudor Night Climbers when one of their small group comes through his student apartment window, seeking sanctuary. Soon James is a member of this self-indulgent, apparently enviable set of high-rolling toffs and schemers whose expensive tastes are underwritten by Francis, the thrillingly attractive black son (via a first, annulled marriage) of Lord Soulford. But Francis’s relationship with his father is rocky, and after a public disgrace Francis is disinherited. With debts mounting and the group’s lifestyle jeopardized, they decide to forge, then sell, a Picasso sketch belonging to Tudor College. Francis’s share of the loot does not, however, do much to delay his downward, self-destructive spiral. Soon he’s gambled away his portion and a great deal more. The group members give him their money and save his skin, but he is a lost soul and hangs himself. Some years later, James finds himself jeopardized by the college’s plan to sell the sketch, which would expose the fraud. But Francis, gallant even beyond the grave, had swapped the fake and real sketches. Any potential threat soon evaporates into thin air.