Ed, heir to the Hartlepool estate and title, is swimming and sunning himself in the south of France five years after his father’s death, in the opening to Paul Torday’s latest novel, The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall. He is suddenly recalled to his British estates by a letter from his butler informing him that his father’s affairs have finally been sorted out and that he has a house guest. Furthermore his father has not only left him the huge Hall and grounds, assorted tenancies and farms, and a broad hunting moor, but a seven-million-pound tax bill.
When he returns to England, he is unable to deal with the facts of his deep financial trouble. For Ed, once-proud scion of the Hartlepool family, now has to sell the hunting moor, and also the farms and tenancies just to pay the tax bill. Once that is cleared, he finds that he still has to find millions of pounds every year for maintenance and upkeep of his family’s Hall. A Hall, mind you, that has uncountable numbers of rooms and priceless artworks scattered around. But Ed has no idea how to approach this, for the only skill his father thought it worth teaching Ed was how to spend money. As a result, Ed is pretty hopeless at anything else. He can’t even understand what his agent and bankers are telling him about his precarious financial state. And then there is the peculiar house guest – Lady Alice Birtley, a proud but withered old woman whom Ed has absolutely no recollection of, and whom he cannot find in any index of the peerage. Just who is Lady Alice and why is she so insistent on talking to Ed about his father?
Into this mess strides Geoff Talbot, who is dating one of Ed’s oldest friends, Annabel Gazebee. Geoff is a property developer who has had his eyes on Hartlepool Hall for a while. He plans to turn it into six to eight million-pound flats and make a fortune on them. All he needs is an introduction to Ed, and then he can sweep Ed off his feet, and out of his house, with wild descriptions of the new development. But Ed is completely aghast at the idea of losing his ancestral seat to a property developer named Geoff. Between scheming developers and doddery old women, Ed’s completely out of his depth.
While you, like I, may be unfamiliar with owning multi-million-pound castles and estates, hunting moors and all the rest, it is hard to not be sympathetic to the tale of disappointment told here. It’s an examination of how the peerage in England may be past its time and the sadness at moving on from the glamour, traditions, and history that those old buildings have been part of.
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