Follett (Night Over Water, 1991; The Pillars of The Earth, 1989, etc.) peeks into the naughty world of late Victorian merchant bankers. A tragic misadventure among schoolboys is at the root of the rotten world of the Pilaster family. Weak bully Edward Pilaster and his too-dear South American chum Mickey Miranda cause the death by drowning of a lad from the lower form at their minor public school and then grow up to become as corrupt as one might expect. Mickey murders his way to a sinecure in the London legation of his nitrate-rich Latin American homeland, and, with much help from his gorgeous, manipulative mum Augusta, Edward bumbles his way to a partnership in the immensely important family bank. The only really good Pilaster, aside from discreetly gay Uncle Samuel, is young Hugh, whose father left the family firm, founded his own bank, and then had to commit suicide when the bank foundered. Hugh is a born banker, but since he's so much smarter than cousin Edward, Aunt Augusta hates him and throws constant obstacles in his path. Against Hugh's advice, Mickey and Edward team up on a series of huge loans to Mickey's government--money that goes to the purchase of war materiel and the advancement of Mickey's thuggish father. On this rotten foundation, the Pilaster bank grows to Imperial preeminence and Augusta gets the earldom she wants for the husband she dislikes. Hugh, pining for the Polish-born, Jewish bareback- rider he loved and lost and still nursing his childhood memory of That Day At The Swimming Hole, gets nothing but grief until those shaky South American bonds finally collapse and he's really needed. Interesting financial tips and a sprinkling of naughty bits, but the rest is minor Masterpiece Theatre.