Sagas about emporium-owning families are usually good for some vividly grounded fun--but first-novelist Pearson, author of assorted non-fiction, tackles the bedroom/showroom problems of Kingston's (London, 1869-1915) with the spiritless, mechanical plod of someone who has overdosed on too many viewings of Masterpiece Theater. The store is founded as a fancy-goods shop on Sloane St. by ambitious young Michael K., who's devoted to a low-key policy of high-quality goods at competitive prices. But Michael, who Soon weds spunky shop-girl May, is always short of capital for his expansions into other merchandise; and, after being almost seduced by a would-be patroness (who'll become his woman-spurned enemy), he takes a partner: weak chum David, husband of aggressive and sexy Lillian. So the inevitable adultery transpires (Lilian's second son is really Michael's)--and it's only the first of Michael's affairs. . . while wife May dabbles in votes-for-women and fails (but not all the way) for a young socialist. The shop continues to grow, of course--despite violent butcher protests when Kingston's adds a meat department, despite Michael's unlikable ruthlessness (a rival shopkeeper suicides), despite near-scandal over Michael's affair with a Countess (May silences her homosexual brother with counter-blackmail)--and by 1888 David, a harlot-obsessed Salvation Army fan, is dead. So the focus moves to the younger generation: store-power competition between Michael's son Ramsay (who weds a US-born suffragette) and David's son Charles (who'll leave to work for Selfridge's); doomed romance between Michael's daughter Rose and her (unbeknownst to all) half-brother James; union troubles; and a grandson who decides to ""make the world a better place"" instead of storekeeping. All of this is familiar, workable material--but Pearson's characters are unsympathetic, his dialogue is stiff, his historical cross-references are gimcrack, and the whole, hard-working enterprise lacks the momentum, charm, and vigor needed to sustain such a long, essentially static period piece.