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An Absolute Scandal

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Overview

An inside view of the greed and social power plays behind the closed doors of upper-crust society, An Absolute Scandal looks at a world where money isn't everything . . . sometimes, it's the only thing. And when the money disappears in the thick of a financial crisis, the real story begins.For Nigel Cowper, this means the destruction of his family business; his wife, Lucinda, is willing to do everything she can to help him—except give up her irresistible lover. The powerful, charismatic banker Simon Beaumont and ...
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Absolute Scandal

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Overview

An inside view of the greed and social power plays behind the closed doors of upper-crust society, An Absolute Scandal looks at a world where money isn't everything . . . sometimes, it's the only thing. And when the money disappears in the thick of a financial crisis, the real story begins.For Nigel Cowper, this means the destruction of his family business; his wife, Lucinda, is willing to do everything she can to help him—except give up her irresistible lover. The powerful, charismatic banker Simon Beaumont and his equally successful wife Elizabeth lose everything they've worked so hard to acquire; but the ultimate tragedy is something that neither one could have anticipated. Yet the well-to-do are not the only ones whose lives are upended: a self-sufficient widow, a single mother, and a schoolmaster find that their lives are also turned upside down in this deliciously readable tale.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Britain's bestselling Vincenzi (Sheer Abandon , etc.) sets this doggedly optimistic epic at the sunset of Thatcherism, and the bleak economic landscape proves fertile territory for a saga of families whose futures and fortunes become entwined in a court battle with the prestigious London insurer, Lloyds. There's Elizabeth, wife and mother of three with a "Very Big Job" in advertising; her charming husband, Simon, a banker with an eye for the ladies; posh Lucinda, who falls for working-class Blue and then risks everything to save her ex's fortune; Debbie's frustrated by her insensitive husband, Richard, afraid of her formidable mother-in-law and devoted to her three kids; and reporter Joel, who helps bring a Lloyds scandal to light and falls in love with one of its victims. Vincenzi deftly imbues the "Greed Decade" with all the twisty turns of an overheated soap-couples trapped by boredom, wives tortured by infidelity, singles hamstrung by convention, children buffeted by circumstance. The general stiff-upper-lipped attitude may sound tinny to American ears (even the Yankees sound like Brits-in-training), but this chickensian drama delivers all the goods required for a sizzling summer read. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This intoxicating, engrossing saga, based on an actual Lloyds of London scandal from 20 years ago, could easily be a miniseries. A multigenerational cast of victims, all fighting to make sense of their orderly lives when financial ruin knocks on their doors, vividly demonstrates the struggles of class, money, and, of course, sex. Vincenzi's (Almost a Crime) long and luxurious style sucks you in and keeps a seductive hold throughout. Not to be missed.


—Teresa Jacobsen
From the Publisher
“Vincenzi continues to reign supreme.”—Glamour“Americans looking for glitzy blockbusters will devour this tale.”—Santa Cruz Sentinel“Engrossing.”—Seattle Post-Intelligencer“Vincenzi still has a knack . . . for drawing readers into her characters' personal and professional dramas, and making hours curled up under the duvet (or spread out on the beach blanket) pass by effortlessly.” —Bookreporter
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616791124
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/10/2008
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

PENNY VINCENZI is the author of several bestsellers, including Sheer Abandon. She lives in London, England.
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Read an Excerpt

An Absolute Scandal A Novel
By Penny Vincenzi
Doubleday Copyright © 2008 Penny Vincenzi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385519892


Chapter 1
22 April 1988, Morning


She wasn't even going to think about having an affair.

It was something she totally disapproved of; it wasn't only immoral and selfish, it was deeply dangerous. She was married, very happily, to someone she not only loved but admired, and there was no way she was going to break her vows (and risk breaking Nigel's heart), and put her marriage and her very happy life at risk. So that was absolutely that. And if he phoned--which he almost certainly wouldn't, he'd been drunk and probably hadn't meant a word of what he said--but if he did, she would simply say, "No, I'm sorry, it was lovely meeting you, but I'm happily married and--well, I'm happily married." That would be enough. Surely. He'd know what she meant and he'd probably come out with some jokey reply and that would be that. And if she had to spell it out--well, she would. A fun encounter: that's all it had been. She might have been a bit silly: she had been a bit silly. But that was all. Blame the champagne. And luckily Nigel hadn't noticed anything …

He came into the bedroom now, from their bathroom, offering his wrists to her so she could put in his cuff links; as she did so, her fingers unusually fumbly—blame the champagne for that as well, she seemed to have a bit of a hangover—she suddenly found herself looking at him as if she had never seen him before. Was hereally, as HE had said so rudely, a bit of a caricature? She supposed, honestly, he was: tall, blond—well, blondish, going just slightly grey now—very slim, pretty good-looking really, perfectly dressed, in his Turnbull and Asser shirt, his pinstripe suit, his Lobb shoes. (HE had been wearing Lobb shoes, he told her: "Only posh thing about me. I get a real thrill going in there, them getting the old last out.")

“Lucinda! Do concentrate, darling, I can't stand here all day.”

“Sorry. There you are.”

“Thanks. You having breakfast this morning?”

“Oh—no.” The thought made her feel sick.

“Hope you're not overdoing the dieting?”

“Nigel, of course I'm not. I'd have thought you only had to look at me to see that.”

“Well—you look pretty good to me. Anyway, I'm hungry. Not enough to eat at that thing, was there?”

“No, not really. Gosh, it's late, I didn't realise.”


***

She mustn't be late for work today, of all days. She worked for Peter Harrison, the publishers, as secretary to Graham Parker, one of the editors, and he had an important meeting with some Americans. Being Americans, they had suggested an eight o'clock meeting; Graham had managed to persuade them forwards an hour to nine, but she'd have to be there well before then, coffee brewed, biscuits and herself ready to greet them. It would be fun.

One of the things Lucinda loved most about her job was the social aspect; there was always something going on—book launches, marketing meetings, sales conferences, press jaunts…She'd been working for Graham for a year now; she was hoping to be an editor herself one day, but her ambition was slightly halfhearted; she didn't intend to go on working after she'd had a baby. That was something else she disapproved of: working mothers. She intended to be like her own mother, always there, putting her children first. But—come on, Lucinda, don't start thinking about that now. You've got to get to work.


***

She caught sight of herself in the hall mirror and tried to see herself through HIS eyes: long-ish full-ish skirt (Laura Ashley), blue shirt with a turned-up collar (Thomas Pink), and her twenty-first-birthday pearls, of course; navy sleeveless Puffa jacket, flat shoes (Charles Jourdan), blond hair scooped back in a velvet band.

There really was no way she could possibly appeal to HIM, not really. He'd like one of those sharp eighties girls in short-skirted suits with padded shoulders, girls with big hair and big ambitions. He wouldn't even be able to remember her this morning, never mind ringing her…and as she stood there, checking that she had her wallet and her keys, the post came through the letter box. A couple of quite nice-looking things, clearly invitations, a bill or two, a postcard from Verbier, from the skiing party she'd wanted to join and Nigel hadn't, and a letter from Lloyd's. Lloyd's of London. One of the whiter-than-white envelopes that arrived once a year, containing a statement of their account and followed in due course by a large cheque. Nigel was a Member of Lloyd's; it was one of the things that had pleased her father most when he and Nigel had had their little chat, just before they got engaged.

"Not only all that land, down in Norfolk, but he's a Name as well; that'll stand you in good stead in the years to come."

One of her uncles had been a Name in quite a big way, apparently. When she was young, she'd heard her mother talking about it, and asked her what it meant. "Well, darling, it means you become a sort of sleeping partner," Margaret Worthington had said rather vaguely. "They insure big things, like ships and buildings, and they make a big profit on it. If you're a Name, you get a share in those profits." "What happens if the ships sink?" she'd asked, and her mother had said, well, there was more than enough money to deal with that. "They still make a profit. Ask Daddy about it, he'll tell you more, I don't really understand it. Except that it pays all your cousins' school fees," she added.

It hadn't sounded interesting enough for Lucinda to ask her father; but she did know now that there was enough money coming in from Lloyd's every year to boost their income quite a bit. Which they didn't need at the moment of course, Nigel's salary as chairman of the family business was perfectly adequate, and he had quite a big portfolio of stocks and shares, but it would be wonderfully helpful when they wanted to move to the country and buy a house.

That was the plan, to move as soon as they had children. Not to Norfolk, that was too far and the last thing Nigel wanted was to run the farm, but he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in London. Nor did she; she'd grown up in the country herself and loved it.

"Where did you live when you were a child then?" HE had asked last night. "Some pile in the country, I s'pose?"

And, "Well," she'd said, "not exactly a pile, but quite a nice house, yes, in Gloucestershire, near Cirencester."

"Oh yeah? Ponies?"

"Yes. Yes, I did have a pony. Actually."

"Very nice," he'd said, "very nice indeed. I'd like my kids to have all that, ponies and boarding school. You go to boarding school?"

"Yes, when I was thirteen."

"Like it?"

"Quite. I got awfully homesick and missed my pony. And Mummy, of course, and my brothers."

"And where were they at school? Eton or Harrow or some such?"

"Um—Eton, yes, actually."

"And hubby, he go to Eton?"

"Yes, he did."

That was when he'd said Nigel was a caricature. And-- Stop it, Lucinda, stop thinking about it.

She started ripping open the envelopes to distract herself. Invitations: oh, fantastic, Caroline's wedding. And that looked like Philippa's writing (it was)--brilliant, party in the country--and Sarah's baby's christening, and-- Damn! She'd opened a letter addressed to Nigel by mistake, half pulled it out. Not that Nigel would mind--at least, she didn't think so. He always said he had no secrets from her. She'd just say she was sorry and--now the letter wouldn't go back into the envelope. Lucinda pulled it out to refold it and couldn't resist reading it. The letterhead was jackson and bond, members' agent, lloyd's of london, and the letter itself was quite brief:


Dear Nigel,
I thought I should warn you ahead of the final account that, as I feared, you did make a loss for the year just closed. Not a big one, just a few thousand pounds


A loss. How extraordinary. That had never happened before. She didn't know how many thousands of pounds Lloyd's would regard as "just a few." Maybe ten thousand, or even more? Surely not. But she did know they dealt in very big numbers. Nigel would know. They'd have to talk about it tonight.

God, she was late; she must go. She left the letters on the hall table and slammed the door behind her.


***

Despite her resolve, she began to think about HIM again: him and last night. She'd never met anyone quite like him before. It had been at a party, to celebrate the publication of a book edited by Graham Parker about the financial markets just before and just after Big Bang—that extraordinary day in October 1986, when the stock market became totally computerised and a free-for-all, rather than the gentlemanly domain of the traditional stockbroker.

Lucinda organised and attended all the editorial department's parties; it was part of her job and she enjoyed it.

The guest list had looked like a Who's Who of the Square Mile, Nigel had been invited, not because he worked in the City—he worked for a large manufacturing company that had been founded by his grandfather—but because he had a large share portfolio and Graham had kindly suggested to Lucinda that it might be interesting for him. HE on the other hand did work in the City.

HE was one of that entirely new breed of traders, the market makers, sprung not from the great public schools but from the East End of London. "I'm one of your electronic barrow boys, so-called," he said, grinning at her, as he allowed her to refill his glass. "Not the sort the City used to give the time of day to, unless we was in our proper place in the back office." He held out his hand. "Gary Horton. Known these days as Blue. Pleased to meet you"—he peered at her name badge—"Lucinda Cowper." He pronounced it wrongly as people so often did; it always annoyed her.

"It's pronounced Cooper," she said briskly, "the w's silent."

"Yeah, I see," he said looking mildly amused, and then, his dark eyes moving over her. "Are you really called Lucinda?"

"Yes, of course. Is that so unusual?"

"Well, where I come from it is. I mean, that is a posh name, isn't it? Seriously posh."

"I—I don't know," she said.

"I don't s'pose you would. Don't s'pose you know anyone who isn't posh, do you?"

"Well, of course I do," she said, rather helplessly.

"Oh, OK. What, like Daddy's chauffeur and Mummy's cleaner?"

"I think you're being rather rude," said Lucinda, "if you don't mind my saying so. Now if you'll excuse me, I—"

"Sorry," he said, putting out an arm, stopping her. "I was out of order. Sorry. It interests me, all that Eton-and-ponies stuff, not sure I know why. Probably because I can't understand how they--you've--done it."

"What do you mean?" she said, reluctantly interested.

"How you've survived so long. I mean, most dinosaurs die out, don't they? Oh, shit. Now I've been rude again, haven't I?"

"Yes. Very," she said coolly, unable to laugh it off; she looked for Nigel, went over and refilled his glass.

"You all right?" she said. "Got enough people to talk to?"

"Oh yes, of course. Jolly good party, Lucinda, well done." He smiled at her; it was one of his more endearing characteristics, that he enjoyed life enormously; his work, his social life--although he got a bit irritated with her more giggly friends--his tennis, his shooting. He was seldom out of sorts, always cheerful, almost always good-tempered. He was quite a bit older than she was, forty-two to her twenty-four, but it had never been a problem. She rather liked it; it made her feel safe.
She was in earnest conversation with one of the other editors when Blue Horton appeared at her side again.

"Look," he said, waiting patiently until the editor moved away, "I just wanted to apologise. I've got a real gift for saying the wrong thing. Can't help it, really."

"It's all right," she said. "Now if you'll excuse me, I really have to go and talk to some more—what did you call them?—oh yes, dinosaurs."

"No, don't go," he said, putting his hand on her arm, "please. One of the reasons I got carried away was because I felt—I don't know—thrown by you."

"Thrown? Why?"

"Well, because you're so bloody gorgeous," he said. "I just totally forgot myself. Looking at you."

Lucinda felt a blush rising up her throat.

"Don't be ridiculous," she said.

"I'm not being ridiculous. I'm a shy, retiring sort of a fellow."

"Now you are really being ridiculous." She smiled in spite of herself. "You're about as shy as—as"—she struggled to think of someone suitably self-confident—"Mrs. Thatcher."

"Ah, now there's a lady I admire," he said, surprising her. "She's responsible for all this"--he waved his arm round the room—"all this enterprise; she's freed up the market, she's made it possible to do whatever you want, given enough ambition and energy and that. It's getting more like the States every day here, and I like it. I think that's what I was really trying to say," he added with a grin, "when I said your lot were dinosaurs. I meant, everything's changed and you've managed not to. And still done well. Very admirable."

"Well, all right. I'll try to accept that."

"Good. So how long you been married then?"

"Three and a half years."

"And kids? Got any kids?"

"No. Not yet,"

"OK. And where'd you live? Don't tell me, somewhere not too far away from Sloane Square."

"Well, yes. Actually. In dinosaur country."

"You're not going to let me forget that, are you?"

"No, I'm not. Now I really do have to circulate a bit more."

"I'll come with you."

"Blue—" She stopped suddenly. "Why Blue, when you were christened Gary?"

"It's a nickname," he said. "We all have them and they all got some sort of reason. I mean, there's Luft, short for Luftwaffe, he's got blond hair and blue eyes and very, very right-wing views. And Croydon, because his surname is Sutton, and Harry, he's one of your coloured gentlemen, so Harry as in Belafonte, and Kermit who looks like a frog, and Blue Buttons were the runaround boys on the old stock-exchange floor. Looked after the brokers, kept them supplied with tea and coffee--and info, of course. You'd hear people shouting for them: 'Where's the Blue? Hey, Blue, over here!' I was one of them, before Big Bang. In fact, I got to be the head Blue Button. So the name stuck. I quite like it. Don't you?"

"I…well, yes, I think so," she said doubtfully.

"Good. Come on, let's do some of this circulating then. You introduce me to some of these people. And your husband, if you like."

Continues...

Excerpted from An Absolute Scandal by Penny Vincenzi Copyright © 2008 by Penny Vincenzi. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Introduction

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Penny Vincenzi’s An Absolute Scandal. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel.

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Foreword

1. What were your first impressions of the characters? How did your opinion of them shift throughout the novel? Which characters captured your imagination the most?

2. What are the main differences between Nigel and Blue? Why was Lucinda drawn to each of them, in different ways? How important is it for a couple to share similar economic and social backgrounds?

3. How does Flora’s personality affect her son’s marriage? Were you more sympathetic to Debbie or to Flora? What is the ideal role for in-laws and grandparents?

4. What sets Catherine apart from the other women in the book? What are her most endearing qualities? What keeps her from finding her Rochester (chapter 49) a bit sooner?

5. What do the children in An Absolute Scandal learn from their parents about weathering defeat and finding joy in life? What point of view will they bring to the twenty-first century?

6. Discuss Jamie and Annabel’s relationship. In what ways are they innocent and naïve? In what ways are they wise?

7. What does Joel mean to Debbie, and vice versa? Why was Richard more likely to suspect her of having an affair with Simon than with Joel?

8. Discuss the 1980s as a character. What do you miss the most and the least about that decade? What makes it the perfect period for a novel about vanity and artifice? What does it mean for styles to evolve from Laura Ashley and shoulder pads to minimalist lines and shades of gray?

9. Were you familiar with the process of becoming a Name (i.e. insurance underwriter)? Would you have been swayed to become a Name? To what extent does the appearance of prestige or the hope of social statusaffect investors’ decisions? Are most investment decisions rational?

10. In chapter thirteen, Fiona boils the case down to two essentials: “Whether the inducement to you to become Names was reckless or not [and] whether it was fraudulent or not.” Do you believe the novel’s characters shared any responsibility for their financial demise, or does blame rest squarely on the shoulders of the fictional Lloyd’s characters invented by Penny Vincenzi?

11. Though An Absolute Scandal is entirely a work of fiction, many headlines in recent years have portrayed similar episodes of contemporary corporate corruption. Do you believe that legislation now protects investors better? What is the best way to safeguard against the Tim Allinsons of this world? How would your family be affected if your net worth suddenly plummeted far into the red? Which creature comforts would it be most difficult for you to part with?

12. What themes of attraction, power, and fate are woven into this and previous novels by Penny Vincenzi? In what ways does her storytelling turn real-life scenarios into thrilling out-of-this world escapades?

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Reading Group Guide

1. What were your first impressions of the characters? How did your opinion of them shift throughout the novel? Which characters captured your imagination the most?

2. What are the main differences between Nigel and Blue? Why was Lucinda drawn to each of them, in different ways? How important is it for a couple to share similar economic and social backgrounds?

3. How does Flora’s personality affect her son’s marriage? Were you more sympathetic to Debbie or to Flora? What is the ideal role for in-laws and grandparents?

4. What sets Catherine apart from the other women in the book? What are her most endearing qualities? What keeps her from finding her Rochester (chapter 49) a bit sooner?

5. What do the children in An Absolute Scandal learn from their parents about weathering defeat and finding joy in life? What point of view will they bring to the twenty-first century?

6. Discuss Jamie and Annabel’s relationship. In what ways are they innocent and naïve? In what ways are they wise?

7. What does Joel mean to Debbie, and vice versa? Why was Richard more likely to suspect her of having an affair with Simon than with Joel?

8. Discuss the 1980s as a character. What do you miss the most and the least about that decade? What makes it the perfect period for a novel about vanity and artifice? What does it mean for styles to evolve from Laura Ashley and shoulder pads to minimalist lines and shades of gray?

9. Were you familiar with the process of becoming a Name (i.e. insurance underwriter)? Would you have been swayed to become a Name? To what extent does the appearance of prestige or the hope of social status affectinvestors’ decisions? Are most investment decisions rational?

10. In chapter thirteen, Fiona boils the case down to two essentials: “Whether the inducement to you to become Names was reckless or not [and] whether it was fraudulent or not.” Do you believe the novel’s characters shared any responsibility for their financial demise, or does blame rest squarely on the shoulders of the fictional Lloyd’s characters invented by Penny Vincenzi?

11. Though An Absolute Scandal is entirely a work of fiction, many headlines in recent years have portrayed similar episodes of contemporary corporate corruption. Do you believe that legislation now protects investors better? What is the best way to safeguard against the Tim Allinsons of this world? How would your family be affected if your net worth suddenly plummeted far into the red? Which creature comforts would it be most difficult for you to part with?

12. What themes of attraction, power, and fate are woven into this and previous novels by Penny Vincenzi? In what ways does her storytelling turn real-life scenarios into thrilling out-of-this world escapades?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2013

    This book was awful. It dragged on without any redeeming plot o

    This book was awful. It dragged on without any redeeming plot or characters. Waste of time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 24, 2009

    love her, hate this book

    i'm finishing this book like a penance. it's SO DREADful. i'm so bored. it's endless and droning. there's a sword of damacles hanging over everyone's head and it's not important enough or ntriguing enough to hold as the primary plot point. penny's usual use of quick snippets of plot to plot to plot are just, for this book, irritating. blergh. and there are three women i truly cannot picture so it takes me five or six sentences to figure out who penny's talking about everytime i encounter them. skip this book. ach.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    English weather and tea of course

    Loved her first few books..now she is sticking to the same format..people get involved in the lives of strangers due to a coincidence or accident. Their lives get enmeshed and they are always drinking tea.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2009

    All her other books were more interesting. This plot was slow and dull

    The book was small in text opposite of her other books. So their was no detail plots with the characters as her other books had.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 29, 2010

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    Posted June 27, 2011

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    Posted March 8, 2011

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    Posted November 27, 2010

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted September 2, 2010

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