A twentieth-century Faust, musician turned wine merchant, Crawford Hollander has done well from his deal with the devil. Successful, charming, surrounded by a circle of adoring women, he has cajoled, manipulated and cheated his way to riches. But Crawford has also accumulated enemies. On his return to his native New Zealand, three men are waiting for him. They have formed the Welcoming Committee, and have prepared a very special form of revenge - Crawford is the most complex and most magnificent of Imogen de la Bere's villains, and the novel through which he struts is her best yet - gripping, funny and deliciously tolerant of human frailty.
Crawford Holland feeds on wine, women and song. With a highly successful wine-trading business and a coterie of women ready to grace him with their company, as well as a remarkably tolerant wife, he seems to have it all. However, the opening scene of the novel, a performance of an opera by his beloved Berlioz, gives the first clue to his real character: he's a modern-day Faust who has connived and manipulated his way to the top, using his apparently irresistible charms to exploit all those who may be useful to him and ruthlessly casting aside those who are not. His pact with the devil is made at the age of 16 when he persuades his aged and alcoholic brother-in-law to put up the money and obtain the all-important liquor licence necessary to start his career as a wine merchant, only to discard him at 21 when the venture is a success and he is old enough to hold his own licence. Meanwhile, it is not just his business life which is flourishing; he is not slow to learn the art of seduction and has women of all ages falling at his feet. Holland's exploitation of those around him continues over several years, making him many enemies along the way, and it is three of these who decide to take retribution, forming the welcoming committee which will greet him - and ultimately bring him down - at a lavish party thrown in his honour. With a cast of likeable characters, the glamour of the wine trade and a seemingly idyllic setting on the coast of New Zealand, this novel makes for an enjoyable read. It is, however, slow to get started and although de la Bere successfully creates a sense of expectation in the reader as the climax approaches, when Holland does eventually receive his comeuppance, it is disappointingly tame. (Kirkus UK)