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A Dangerous Fortune

A shocking secret behind a young boy’s death leads to three generations of treachery in this breathtaking saga of love, power and revenge, set amid the wealth and decadence of Victorian England…

In 1866, a schoolboy drowns in a mysterious accident. Present are Hugh Pilaster and his older cousin Edward, the dissolute heir to a banking fortune and Micky Miranda, son of a brutal South American landowner. Caught in the ensuing maelstrom are sly matriarch Augusta Pilaster, rich heir Solly Greenbourne and slum girl Maisie Robinson. Micky Miranda uses blackmail and murder to advance his family and threatens the whole British economy.

Ken’s view

I read a newspaper article about the day Barings Bank went bust in 1892. It intrigued me that this smug group of wealthy Victorian grandees should suddenly realise that all their money had gone. All of it. They are bankrupt, they owe money to people and they don’t have any themselves. They have to face the prospect of firing all their servants, moving to the suburbs and peeling their own potatoes and washing their own long johns. It struck me as terrifically dramatic and it became the central scene of the book. I worked backwards to construct how they got into this situation and then worked forwards to detail how did they dealt with it.

I had toyed with a banking novel before and dropped it and so in a sense I was returning to an old idea, although in a different form. The Victorian era is better than a contemporary setting for a banking story because modern banking is too mechanical and that impedes truly dramatic scenes. Banking then was also far less controlled: bonds were a relatively new invention, real cash was used a lot and records were written by clerks on stools with quill pens. It enabled me to do banking in a more vivid and material way.

A Dangerous Fortune is, however, more about murder than money. There are several murders, and a mystery that runs right through the story. It also has my first female villain, Augusta who’s domineering, sexy and unscrupulous. I like her.

Listen to Ken’s view of A Dangerous Fortune


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  • “A terrific page-turner… careening thrills… telling historical detail… genuine surprises” — Los Angeles Times
  • “Relentlessly suspenseful!” — New York Times
  • “A full-blooded melodrama, complete with moustache-twirling villains, saintly heroes, wronged women, and a lot of plot” — Irish Times
  • “Banks, brothels, and a high body count… it’s all there” — Financial Times
  • “A compulsively readable, enjoyable thriller-cum-saga” — Sunday Times

Published as

A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett, Delacorte Press, New York, 1993.

Also published in many other languages, and available as an audiobook and as an ebook.