A DANGEROUS FORTUNE begins at the Windfield School, a prestigious English academy, with the mysterious drowning of Peter Middleton. The death sets the stage for the rest of the book, with the story picking up again in 1873. Schoolmates Edward Pilaster, his cousin Hugh Pilaster, and a South American named Micky Miranda play principal roles in the events that follow.
Edward and Hugh struggle for seventeen years for control of Pilasters, one of the largest and most powerful banks in the world. Edward has the inside track as the son of a partner; Hugh’s father had pulled his capital out of the bank and then gone bankrupt in his own business. Hugh, however, is the more capable banker. One of the many subplots involves the efforts of Edward and his mother, Augusta, to maintain their control of the bank.
Peter Middleton’s death remains a mystery, with knowledge of it providing leverage for some characters over others. David Middleton, Peter’s brother, presses major characters into action when he threatens to open an investigation of the death as a murder rather than an accident, as it was proclaimed to be at the time. Attempts to keep the truth of the incident secret lead to several murders.
Follett’s novel is dramatic, with major plot turns in almost every chapter. The author skillfully exploits the tensions involved in the familial struggle for control of Pilasters, the mystery of Peter Middleton’s death, and the romantic relationships of major characters. The importance in the business world of sexual relationships is perhaps overstressed, as is the control that women exert behind the scenes, but Follett is convincing in his portrayal of Victorian England. This novel is not of the scale of Follett’s PILLARS OF THE EARTH but has the same dramatic power.