Written by Nicholas Shakespeare
Review by Doug Kemp

Andy Larkham, in his late 20s, impoverished and working for a small London publishing firm, attends the funeral of a former schoolteacher. Or rather, he mistakenly goes to the wrong service and is instead present at the sparsely attended final rites of Christopher Madigan, a complete stranger. Events become bizarre when he shortly afterwards receives a letter from Madigan’s legal representatives, which states that under the terms of their client’s will, the estate is to be divided up between those present for the funeral service. In short, Andy receives a windfall of £17 million from the stranger. This takes place in 2005, and most of the rest of the narrative is devoted to the events that lead up to this: Madigan, of Armenian descent, grows up in post-WWII Australia, where the source of his immense wealth is the discovery of a rich iron-ore mine.

Following a period of unsatisfactory high spending, Larkham becomes absorbed in uncovering Madigan’s story, wanting to find out the truth both about the man and Janine, Madigan’s estranged daughter. It is a tale of betrayal and deception, of love and tragic misunderstanding. Unlikely though the plot is, it is a story that possesses a power and drive that fully engages the reader, following the life of Madigan and the misrepresentations made by others so that his reputation as a selfish miser are shown to be just fiction.