After five years’ tax exile, Ed Hartlepool returns to his English stately home and discovers his true inheritance from his late father: a £7 million tax bill, huge debts, an 80-year-old butler and a housekeeper so used to family extravagance that she prepares lavish daily banquets for dozens of non-existent guests.
The only resident is the enigmatic and elderly Lady Alice, who has moved in during Ed’s absence. Desperate to keep the family home, Ed is persuaded by his long-time friend and admirer Annabel to listen to her property developer boyfriend Geoff’s project to transform Hartlepool Hall into luxury flats and a golf course.
None of this bears much resemblance to modern life as most of us know it - especially the characters involved - but as the plot develops, such considerations cease to matter and the charm of Paul Torday’s telling of this decidedly old-fashioned (in the best possible sense) story comes more and more to the fore. The reader willingly embraces suspension of disbelief as the tone gradually becomes both funnier and darker and the novel gallops towards a grippingly unpredictable finale, which may or may not leave Ed a happier and wiser man.
A gloriously enjoyable wallow of a read.