A Dangerous Fortune

A Dangerous Fortune

1993 | Thriller | 624 pages

Epic in its scale, A Dangerous Fortune tells of the dramatic highs and lows of the wealthy Pilaster family from the bestselling author of The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett.

A Tragic Accident
1866: at an exclusive school in Victorian England, a schoolboy drowns in a mysterious accident. His death and its aftermath will have repercussions for decades to come . . .
A Fierce Rivalry
There on that fateful day were Hugh Pilaster and his older cousin Edward, heirs of a powerful banking dynasty with connections that reach from London to far-afield colonies.
A Lethal Secret
The cousins find themselves locked in a vicious competition for the top job at the bank. But the respectable veneer of the family, and even Victorian England itself, looks to shatter as the deadly event from their schooldays threatens everything the Pilasters have built.
First chapter



On the day of the tragedy, the boys of Windfield School had been confined to their rooms. It was a hot Saturday in May, and they would normally have spent the afternoon on the south field, some playing cricket and others watching from the shady fringes of Bishop’s Wood. But a crime had been committed. Six gold sovereigns had been stolen from the desk of Dr Offerton, the Latin master, and the whole school was under suspicion. All the boys were to be kept in until the thief was caught.


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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.


“Banks, brothers, and a high body count…it’s all there.” – Financial Times


“A compulsively readable, enjoyable thriller-cum-saga.” – Sunday Times


“A full-blooded melodrama, complete with moustache-twirling villains, saintly heroes, wronged women and a lot of plot.” – Irish Times


“Political and amorous intrigues, cold-blooded murder, and financial crises . . . old-fashioned entertainment.” – San Francisco Chronicle


“Breathlessly plotted . . . relentlessly suspenseful.” – The New York Times