Dying tycoon entreats sworn enemy to find his heir in a sophisticated meditation on the British upper crust by Fellowes (Snobs, 2005).
Constructed as a minor mystery but sprawling over the course of several decades, the novel launches with a visit by the unnamed narrator to his longtime nemesis, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Billionaire mogul Damien Baxter shares an anonymous letter written in 1990 that reads in part, “It is also late and I am drunk and so I have found the nerve to say that you have made my life a living lie for nineteen years. I stare at my living lie each day and all because of you.” The letter implies that Baxter, long sterile from adult mumps, has an offspring to whom he could leave his fortune. The newly minted detective agrees to be Baxter’s inside man and access the lofty social circles necessary to track down five potential mothers: the poised daughter of an earl, a Moravian princess and a brassy American adventuress from Cincinnati, among others. Taking stock of the various candidates, the narrator pieces together Baxter’s story and discerns more about his place in a society to which he barely belongs. The whodunit element is solid enough, the dialogue characteristically erudite and the pastoral milieu likely to appeal to anglophiles and Englishmen of a certain age. But Fellowes bogs down his narrative in a quagmire of minutiae about the décor of English country houses, the social graces of a long-gone age and other period niceties that become increasingly dull as they pile up. The appeal of this overly detailed social history is likely to be lost on the average reader.
Lopsided, rambling and fitfully witty.