As the starting point for this novel, Nicholas Shakespeare has appropriated one of those compelling myths, its origin unknown, which in the manner of such myths mysteriously passed from mouth to mouth some thirty or forty years ago and then died and was forgotten. It goes as follows. A man, arriving late at a crematorium, rushes into the first chapel that he sees, only to be amazed that there are no more than two or three mourners present. The service over, he is approached by the deceased’s solicitor, who asks for his name and address. A few days later, he receives a letter. The deceased was a billionaire, conscious of being generally disliked and friendless, who stipulated in his will that his estate should be divided among those, however little known to him, present at his obsequies.
In Shakespeare’s version the inheritor of seventeen million pounds from a total stranger is the constantly broke employee of a small and undistinguished publishing firm whose fiancé is about to ditch him. One assumes that what will now ensue will be what ensues in novels about similarly vast