In his first US publication, British novelist Boast chooses a Dickensian subject--the rags-to-riches saga of a foundling--set in post-Dickensian London and the battlefields of WW I. As the bells toll midnight on the first day of the new century, a spurned servant girl gives birth to a baby boy whom she leaves on the steps of London Hospital, where he's found by a nurse who names him Ben London and cares for him. But when the nurse dies, he's committed to the miseries of the workhouse until the cook's daughter, Ria, brings him into their home in an East End slum. Her vicious brother, Vic, hates him, especially after Ria becomes pregnant, and rapes him in an alley from which he's rescued by the effete son of an aristocrat--who himself can't express his shameful love for Ben. Bertie and Ben train as aviators and take off for the battlefields of France; Ria has her baby and goes on the stage; Ben becomes a war hero and impregnates a Countess who wants to provide an heir for her dying husband, the last Count of Coucy (Boast takes liberties here--the last Count of Coucy died in 1397). Bertie dies. The war ends. Ben marries a spoilt and cold rich gift, whose father owns the failing Leibig Emporium. Of course, Ben has brilliant ideas on how to improve the store, but he's almost beaten by the enmity of his wife and his old nemesis Vic. In the last 100 pages of this 600-page book, almost all the characters reappear, including Ben's mother, who recognizes him as he strides triumphantly into the newly renamed London Emporium. Boast is adept at weaving together the stories of all Ben's significant others, and his portrait of London is teeming and rich. Too bad, then, that the plot turns on such melodramatic events, and the characters, like actors in a morality play, act out of such simple and single-minded motivations.