Today is the sixth day of my Book Advent Calendar so we’ve reached the letter “F”. My recommendation is Frances Fyfield, a criminal lawyer who has written two dozen mysteries. I’m featuring one from 2012, Gold Digger. And if you like this one, you might want to consider Casting the First Stone which has the same protagonist.
Day Six: Gold Digger by Frances Fyfield
In a rambling house in a seaside town on the English Channel resides a May/December couple. Thomas Porteous, a wealthy art collector, married Diana Quigley ten years after she tried unsuccessfully to rob him. Because of her innate understanding of and appreciation for art, they develop an affinity. When Thomas dies, he leaves his entire collection to his wife so that she can establish a gallery for the edification and enjoyment of others. Thomas’ children from his first marriage, virtually estranged because of their mother’s lies, inherit nothing because their father knew well their greediness; nonetheless, they swoop in like vultures to sell the paintings and pocket the proceeds. Determined to fulfill her beloved husband’s wishes, Di has to use the skills she learned as a teenage burglar to thwart their plans.
Comparisons to King Lear are inevitable. Thomas was not as blind as Lear to the personalities of his daughters, but he did underestimate their ruthlessness. Gayle and Beatrice, corrupt and deceitful, are certainly Goneril and Regan; the animal imagery Shakespeare used to describe them could as aptly be used on their modern day counterparts. Edward, Gayle’s husband, is like Edmund, although a “bastard” in a different sense of the word; Saul is like the ever-loyal Kent; Raymond, the family lawyer, is somewhat like Gloucester, blind to the full truth; and Patrick is Edgar who offers some hope in the end. Di, of course, is Cordelia; she is of an age that she could have been Thomas’ daughter and she is the one who proves her love true despite the opinion of others who see her as a gold digger.
This is very much a novel of character. Each character emerges as an individual. Even Gayle and Beatrice, as similarly venomous as they are, are differentiated. Thomas says of his daughters, “They always take or break,” but Gayle, being older, has childhood memories of her father that Beatrice doesn’t and so is less willing to believe in her father’s “sinister propensities.” That Gayle and other reprehensible characters are shown to have some redeeming qualities indicates the quality of the characterization.
The book examines how greed and resentment can make people act in irrational ways. Raymond warns Di: “’There is a level of hatred in some families which goes beyond the rational. These daughters believe that their mother was the victim of great cruelty, as they were themselves. They believe Thomas was responsible for her unhappiness and for the failure of their lives. Such hatred knows no boundaries. None at all.’” There are at least five parents in the novel who use their own children in schemes to enrich themselves.
There is certainly sufficient suspense to maintain reader interest. Knowing the fate of even the best-laid plans and being aware that “’Those that have, want more,’” the reader keeps wondering if the plan to “hoist with one’s own petard” will succeed. Di also has to determine who can really be trusted. And then there’s the ominous presence of Di’s father, the Dickensian Fagin. There is foreshadowing (making me think of “The Cask of Amontillado”) but enough red herrings to keep one guessing.
This is a good read; those who like Fyfield will find more to admire and those unfamiliar with her will find a new author to explore.