Hailed by The New Yorker as “wickedly enjoyable,” Nicholas Coleridge’s newest novel is a sharp comedy of manners about two powerful men engaged in a bitter rivalry. Their feud rages from the boardroom to the bedroom as old money takes on the newGazing from his magnificent Chawbury Manor, Miles Straker has it all. But when noveau riche Ross Clegg buys and builds on the land adjoining his country estate, ruining his perfect view, Miles is irate. Even worse, Ross is quickly taken up by the country gentry, who admire his success and his down-to-earth manners. But Miles is a dangerous enemy and he vows to take the Clegg empire apart piece by piece. A rich read full of wit, Pride and Avarice is sure to be Coleridge’s biggest selling book to date.
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NICHOLAS COLERIDGE is managing director of Condé Nast in Britain. He has written four previous novels.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Miles Straker, resplendent in his favourite lightweight summer suit and myopically patterned silk tie, stepped outside onto the terrace and surveyed the scene. He took it all in, noticing everything . . . the perfection of his herbaceous borders, the David Linley garden gate in finest limed oak which stood at the head of the yew walk, the view along the Test valley, surely the finest in all Hampshire. He drew a deep breath of satisfaction, knowing that he, and he alone, had created . . . all this, this English arcadia . . . which only taste and energy, and advice from exactly the right people, and a very great deal of money constantly applied, could make possible.
For a moment he stood there, amidst all the activity of the lunch party preparations. Waiters and waitresses from the catering company were spreading tablecloths on the two dozen round tables in the marquee and laying out cutlery and wine glasses, and florists were arranging armfuls of flowers bought that morning at Covent Garden; two gardeners up ladders with lengths of twine, shears and a spirit level made final adjustments to the yew hedges; further glasses, for cocktails and champagne, were set-up on tables outside the orangerie for pre-lunch drinks.
He stared along the valley, spotted the cars parked on the horizon, and frowned. How very odd. They were parked up by old Silas’s cottage— a couple of jeeps and two other cars, it looked like— and Silas never had visitors. Miles hoped they would soon leave. He didn’t like the way the sunshine bounced off their bonnets.
Inside the tent, he saw his wife, Davina, in conversation with the event organiser examining some detail of the table setting. Miles wondered whether his wife looked quite her best in the summer dress she had put on, or whether he should send her inside to change into an alternative one.
Sensing they were being observed, Davina and the event organiser, Nico Ballantyne of Gourmand Solutions, spotted Miles on the terrace and hurried over to him. Miles often had that effect. People instinctively recognised that he was far too important and impatient to be kept waiting.
‘There you are, darling,’ said Davina anxiously. ‘Nico and I were discussing whether it would be better to have salt flakes or salt crystals on the table. The salt cellars are red glass.’
‘We rather felt crystals could be nicer,’ Nico said, in a tone which left the door open for dissent, Miles being the paymaster.
Miles considered the question. ‘I think flakes actually.’ And so flakes it was.
Miles Straker was regarded, certainly by himself but by a good many others besides, as the most attractive and charismatic man in Hampshire. At the age of fifty-three, he was fit, handsome, socially confident, abominably smooth and, above all, rich. As Chairman and Chief Executive of Straker Communications, the public relations consultancy he had founded twenty-five years earlier, he was also widely viewed as influential. You had only to look at the roster of his clients (and he mailed out an impressive glossy brochure every year, to as many as four thousand neighbours and opinion formers, listing them all) to get the mea sure of his reach. His corporate clients included Britain’s third largest supermarket group, second largest airline, an international luxury hotels chain, an arms dealer, an energy conglomerate, a Spanish sherry marque and, pro bono, the Conservative Party. In addition, he was privately retained by half a dozen Footsie 100 Chairmen and CEOs, either to enhance their public profile or else keep them out of the newspapers altogether. It was rumoured that the royal House of Saud paid Miles a stupendous annual retainer for presentational services, as did the Aga Khan Foundation. But Miles would never be drawn on these special arrangements, if they did in fact exist.
From Monday to Friday, the Strakers lived in a tall, white stucco house on a garden square in Holland Park, which they had owned for eleven years. If there was a faintly corporate feel to the place, and particularly to the large taupe-and-nutmeg coloured drawing room with its many L-shaped sofas, this was because Miles regularly used the house as somewhere in which to hold work-related receptions, which had the additional advantage of enabling him to write-off most of the expensive decoration against tax. Each morning, Miles was collected at 6:50 a.m. precisely from the house to be driven to one of the three hotel dining rooms he used for breakfast meetings with the great and the good, before being dropped at the mews house behind Charles Street, Mayfair, which was his corporate headquarters. For as long as he had been able to afford it, Miles had made a rule of maintaining an in de pen dent office above the fray, private and secretive, rather than sitting himself in the same building as his 900 London-based employees. ‘I probably have the smallest office in London,’ was his boast. ‘There’s scarcely room for the seven of us to squeeze in together: that’s me, the three girls, two analysts, and my driver.’ Needless to say, Miles’s own senatorial office, within this toytown Regency town house, occupied virtually all the available space.
But it was the country house in Hampshire which he felt best reflected his stature and gravitas. Seven years after buying the place from the Heathcote-Palmers, whose ancestors had built the house almost 300 years earlier, Miles liked to imply that his own family had been settled there for rather longer than they had. This was put across in many subtle ways, such as the leather framed black and white photographs of Chawbury Manor dotted about the Holland Park house, and in the Charles Mews South office, and a tasteful engraving of Chawbury on the letterhead of the country writing paper, and the substantial conversation pieces hanging in both the country and London entrance halls, showing Miles and Davina and the four Straker children painted in oils on the terrace, framed by lavender beds and yew hedges, with the trophy house looming ostentatiously behind them.
It was generally agreed that Chawbury Manor was one of the loveliest setups in the county; not only the house itself, with its Georgian proportions and knapped-flint-and-brick Hampshire architecture, but for its crowning glory, its views. It stood at the head of a steep private valley, almost a mile long, bounded its entire length on one side by mature woodland, and on the other by rolling downland. The floor of the valley, through which the river Test meandered, was overlooked by the several raked and balustraded terraces of Chawbury Manor, and grazed over by a flock of rare Portland sheep.
From the wide top terrace, which opened out from French windows in the drawing room, the television room and from Miles’s own wood-panelled study, you could see the full pitch of the valley, and it was here, when the Strakers entertained, that guests gathered for drinks before lunch or dinner, exclaiming at the view.
‘Is this all you?’ people would ask, staring into the distance.
And Miles replied, ‘Actually it is, yes. Our predecessors used to finish at the fence just before the far wood, but fortunately the wood came up a few years ago and we were able to buy it. Which makes one feel much more secure, with all these alarming changes in planning regulations from the ghastly Michael Meacher.’
‘Now tell us about that pretty little cottage? Now what’s that all about?’
The cottage was a tiny flint-and-lathe labourer’s hovel on the horizon, surrounded by a tumbledown barn and several other semi-derelict outbuildings, including an ancient pigeonniere. At such a distance from the manor, it was impossible to see the cluster of buildings very clearly, because they melded into the fold of the hill. And yet you could never look down the valley without being aware of them. The cottage acted as a picturesque eye-catcher in landscaped parkland.
‘Well, as a matter of fact that’s the one and only thing that isn’t us. I hope it will be one day. I have an understanding with the old boy who lives there that he’ll offer it to me first and to no one else.’
‘So it is still lived in? It looks rather abandoned.’
‘I think only about two rooms are habitable. He’s a strange old character who lives there, the place is collapsing round his ears. Silas Trow, his name is, looks about a hundred and ten. It’s reached by an unmade track from the Micheldever road. God knows how he manages out there. Collects his weekly GIRO and that’s about it, I think.’
‘What’ll you do with the cottage when you get it?’ people often enquired. ‘It has so much potential.’
Then Miles would shrug. ‘Well, Davina always says she wants it for her painting studio. We’ll see. There are any number of uses we might put it to.’
In the back of Miles’s mind was the prospect of one day installing one of his mistresses there, once it had been repaired, as a weekend trysting place. Too risky, too reckless, too close to home? Perhaps. But he thrived on risk. He assumed Davina had known for years about the existence of other women and long ago accepted it, but perhaps she didn’t; it wasn’t exactly something he could ask her.
Excerpted from Pride and Avarice by Nicholas Coleridge.
Copyright © 2009 by Nicholas Coleridge.
Published in February 2010 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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