The marriage of an American banking heiress and a British aristocrat breeds—or not—dire consequences.
When Virginia, daughter of New York financier Fred III, ruler of the banking dynasty Praegers, marries a lord whose palatial country house, Hartest, needs a cash infusion, this first appears to be a standard tale of English nobility saved by American wealth, à la Downton Abbey. However, the prologue makes quite clear what the primary throughline of this typically Vincenzi-an doorstop will be: Virginia, Lady Caterham, admits to her shrink that none of her three children know who their real father is, but one thing is for sure, none are the progeny of their presumed sire, Alexander, Earl of Caterham. Why this is so is the primary source of suspense in a book that is, particularly in its exposition-laden first half, quite the arduous slog. Growing up, the three Caterham children are taunted by playmates and schoolmates about how little they resemble one another. When Virginia dies before she can explain, each of the three children, Charlotte, Max (heir to Hartest) and, most reluctantly, the earl’s favorite child, Georgina, embarks on a quest to solve his or her respective paternal enigma. Each divines, with growing horror, that their mother had affairs for the express purpose of procreation—in all likelihood with Alexander’s complicity. An equally fraught subplot involves Virginia’s brother Baby (Fred IV), his opportunistic English mistress, Angie, and the internecine battles at Praegers as the bank enters the treacherous but immensely profitable territory of the Reagan era and beyond. Fred III, as he grows elderly, refuses to relinquish his control of the bank to Baby, and Baby’s son, Freddy, once sole heir to Praegers, is, at Fred III’s decree, now co-heir with cousin Charlotte, whom he’s determined to sandbag. By postponing, for over 300 pages, genuine challenges for her hyperprivileged characters, Vincenzi risks delaying any reason to sympathize with them.
A balky lead-up to a breathless close, as sinister secrets belatedly bubble up.