The sequel to The Card: A Story of Adventure in the Five Towns, but not nearly as good. In this story, Edward Henry leaves Bursley to found a London theatre, and once that storyline takes over, the book lost impetus and, for me, interest.
Edward Henry (now too grand to be Denry) is a self-made success in the Midlands, and relishes his reputation as a bit of a card ("but without quite convincing the surveyor of taxes that he was an honest man"). He has money, charm and ingenuity, but no taste, developing his musical preferences "unprejudiced by tradition" and designing his home with "his talent for the ingenious organisation of comfort, and his utter indifference to aesthetic beauty".
His mother lives in the house, along with his wife and children. She "existed in their home like a philosophic prisoner of war at the court of conquerors, behaving faultlessly... but never renouncing her soul's secret independence nor permitting herself to forget she was on foreign ground". The eldest child, Robert, is a smart-alec who, when given unsolicited advice, says "I know", but when asked for information, says "I don't know". In this volume, Edward Henry also has a new catchphrase "You'd almost think so, wouldn't you?", though this is forgotten once he gets to London. These characters and relationships are the best aspect of the book.
Despite his wealth and influence (he is an alderman and former mayor), "Like many very eminent men, he was not to any degree in anybody's set". Unfortunately, "Money had become futile for him. 'I want a change'", and hence the London episodes begin.
Initially, the book survives the transition; there are some perceptive and often amusing incidents when Edward Henry first stays there. "The elect desired nothing but their own privileged society in order to be happy in a hotel" - very different from all the mod cons Edward Henry had at home. This leads to a very funny section where he bluffs his way to a very elite hotel and tries to fit in, engaging a valet (and inventing an implausible excuse as to why his is not there) and buying new clothes and luggage, all for a bet - just as his dance with the Countess of Chell had been, may years earlier.
As the theatre plans firm up, there is too much detail of the legalities of contracts, the temperament of actresses and the daily problems of founding and running a theatre. I finished the book in the hope it would return to form. Unfortunately, it didn't.