A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett Macmillan $255 KEN Follett's new book is the literary equivalent of a computer game: undemanding, fast-moving and addictive. It is an entirely comfortable book. The baddies stay bad and the goodies win out in the end. No surprises. But it is hard to feel cheated. Its 420 pages contain all the characters one could expect to find in a sure-to-be bestseller about the fluctuating fortunes of a Victorian banking family. Enter Augusta, the wicked matriarch at the heart of the Pilaster family, who manipulates people's lives with the same ease as she draws up her fashionable dinner party lists. As a woman in Victorian England she cannot seize power for herself, so the target for her ambitions is first her weak, good-natured husband Joseph for whom she wants a title, and later Edward, her ineffectual son for whom she wants the leadership of the bank, but who prefers brothels to banks and gambling to accounting. Augusta's fellow conspirator is Edward's former schoolfriend Micky Miranda, the cruel but handsome Latin American who schemes to boost his family's fortune through making useful contacts in London. However, in the tradition of the best Victorian romantic novels, there are plenty of characters with hearts of gold to stand in the way of the wicked Augusta and Micky. There is Hugh, the poor but clever cousin who works his way up through the bank from the lowest clerical ranks, always maintaining his integrity, never succumbing to the many bawdy temptations easily available to young men of his era. And fat, good-natured Solly, heir to a Jewish banking fortune and one of the richest men in the world, who still finds time to be nice to everyone. And of course there is Maisie, runaway working class girl made good, who somehow manages to preserve her virginity and sense of morality during years of growing up among prostitutes, thieves and fellow acrobatic circus performers. Needless to say, Maisiefalls into her role in upper class society with consummate ease. The story starts with the mysterious drowning of a 13-year-old schoolboy in a waterhole with five other boys around him. The coroner concludes that it is an accidental death, but the others know that the ghost of Peter Middleton will haunt them for the rest of their lives. As they grow up, a series of unlikely coincidences and misadventures bring the same characters together again and again to create a story that is quite unputdownable and yet will never be anything more than a good plane read.