A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Hugh Pilaster's life changes in 1866. He is at the swimming hole with his friends Tonio Silva and Peter Middleton when his cousin Edward Pilaster and his friend Micky Miranda show up. They start bullying the younger boys Hugh runs away, but Edward catches Peter and starts ducking his head under water, Tonio throws a rock at Edward which hits him in the forehead and enraged he starts chasing Tonio and Peter drowns. A very upset Tonio catches up to Hugh and repeats over and over I didn't see it. But all thoughts of what happened at the swimming hole are driven out of Hugh's head when he learns his Father Tobias committed suicide after becoming bankrupt. Micky uses the events at the swimming hole to ingratiate himself with the wealthy Pilaster Family, especially with Edward's Mother Augusta who manipulates the family.
Years have gone by and an ailing Seth Pilaster plans to step down as Senior Partner of Pilaster's Bank. Everyone assumes that his son Samuel will become Senior Partner but Augusta starts a smear campaign saying Samuel isn't fit to be senior partner because he is a homosexual, her husband Joseph gets the position after Seth "conveniently" dies. Joseph then loans the Miranda family money that they use to take over a nitrate mine from a competing family, in South America. When Lady Florence shows interest in Hugh Augusta tells her family that Hugh has a gambling problem (which he doesn't) because she doesn't want Hugh to make a better match then Edward. Outraged that Hugh is being promoted faster then Edward at the bank she schemes to get him in trouble and when Edward catches him with street urchin Maisie, Augusta uses the scandal to have Hugh sent to America. Maisie discovers she is pregnant after Hugh has left for America with no way to contact him she marries the wealthy Solly Greenbourne (from a competing banking family) and becomes the darling of Society.
Hugh returns to England with enough clout to be made a partner, but when he is trapped into marriage with Nora and Augusta tricks her into slapping a wealthy client the partnership offer is rescinded, and Joseph states he will never be made a partner due to his unfortunate wife. Meanwhile Edward is made partner as a reward for marrying Emily and the Miranda family receive another loan. Hugh decides to leave Pilaster's and ask Solly for a job. Solly not only gets him a job at the Greenbourne bank, he ask Maisie to teach Nora how to behave like a lady. Maisie then arranges for Nora to charm the Prince of Wales and Joseph makes Hugh a partner to Augusta's dismay.
Augusta wants a title and schemes to buy one, but her scheme to advocate for a banker being given a peerage backfires when the Prime Minister plans to give the peerage to Ben Greenbourne (Solly's Father). Augusta immediately starts a smear campaign against Jews and the peerage is given to Joseph instead. When Solly finds out what happened through the Prince of Wales he confronts Edward and plans to end the partnership between Pilaster's and Greenbourne's on a deal for the Miranda family. Micky overhears the confrontation and Solly is pushed in front of a carriage before he can tell anyone.
Joseph dies and Augusta insist that Edward be made Senior Partner. Micky's Father needs yet another loan and Edward tries to push it through put the partners refuse to underwrite the loan but agree to handle it on a commission basis, which isn't good enough for Micky. He uses sex to get Edward to go behind the partners back and underwrite the loan. The partners are furious and force Edward to resign and Hugh is made partner. When war breaks out (Micky's Father is attempting to overthrow the President of Cordova) the bank goes bankrupt. Hugh insist the partners must sell off their assets in order to repay the bank's debts. Nora who only married Hugh for his money leaves him and their three kids.
Hugh marries Maisie, starts a syndicate backed by Ben Greenbourne to pay off the banks debts and thanks to Tonio Silva is even able to make a modest profit for the syndicate. He then plans to launch a new bank Pilaster's Limited.
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