Suddenly risen to power and influence, Samuel Fairbrother, manufacturer and retailer of boots, shoes and clogs, decided that his new station in life deserved a more imposing residence. Accordingly he bought himself a thirty-four-roomed mansion situated on the outskirts of Fellburn. With the house came the butler, Maitland, who at once made plain his belief that Samuel, far from the gentleman his predecessor had been, was no more than an upstart. So began a clash of wills between master and man, at which Samuel Fairbrother discovered he was at a distinct disadvantage, for Maitland was well skilled in the art of maintaining his indispensability. Fairbrother, for his part, was only too aware that he dare not dispense with Maitland's services. And so an uneasy truce was declared between them. As the years went by and the century turned, Samuel Fairbrother saw his children, one by one, leave the big house to make lives of their own - all except his eldest daughter Janet who, by means of a legacy, was enabled to shape the destiny of her father's scattered family and effect the reconciliation that he thought was impossible.
The families in Cookson's period novels shout a lot and are unhappy as only Cookson's families can be (The Obsession, p. 659, etc.) when they wrestle with the problems of class, backstreet affairs, and the leaking away of money through profligate sons. Here, in the late-19th-century environs of Newcastle, Samuel Fairbrother, a rough-hewn grandson of a cobbler and now a successful owner of shoe stores, looks "beyond his station" and buys a "gentleman's residence" in order to raise his eight children to better things. With the house comes the elegant buffer Roger Maitland, who'll eventually teach them all a lesson about class and character. And yet Samuel makes an uneasy adjustment to his new circumstances, in spite of the elegant efforts of Maitland to smooth out some of those rough edges. Wife Alice, meanwhile, soon feeling neglected, is about to rebel, even to flirt with - of all people - the attractive Maitland; son Howard, liar and cheat, falls deep into gambling debt; the flighty Alicia has cast herself at a stable groom and is now pregnant; and Jessie is headed for a convent. But two sons are off to sea, one promising to take to studies, and then there's daughter Janet, a chip off the old tough block, Sam's anchor in domestic storms - and there are plenty: Sam takes a mistress, Alice leaves, and Howard the Horrid is up for murder. The last straw is the attraction between reliable Janet and none other than Maitland the butler, with passion stirring. Sam the "upstart" is enraged that Janet the "lady" would marry a "servant." Again, Cookson characters are noisy and broad-brushed, in plots that are formulaic, but there's also that raw energy and those displays of that gutsy, yeoman slang of the last century, "common as muck" but gritty as an oatcake. A reliable Cookson production. (Kirkus Reviews)
Number Of Pages: 480
Published: 1st February 1997
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 17.8 x 10.7 x 2.8
Weight (kg): 0.23