In a sequel to The Bourbon Kings, Ward continues the saga of a wealthy Kentucky family beset by a plague of riches, with a powerful scion, William Wyatt Baldwine, Chief Executive Officer of the Bradford Bourbon Company. When the head of the family is found dead--presumably a suicide--this man of low standards and high expectation is not mourned by his son or daughter, his wife long ensconced in her bedroom in a drug-addled state.
Eldest son Edward, the natural heir, is unable to assume management of the business, physically and emotionally damaged from a kidnapping in South America. When his father refused to pay the ransom, Edward suffered the consequences, his broken body a testament to the abuse that left him seriously diminished, with a bitter heart. Jonathan Tulane Baldwine, the youngest son known as “Lane,” a reformed playboy and gambler, steps in as family leader in Edward’s stead. Lane finds the business in shambles from his father’s reckless decisions, unthinkable after 200 years in Kentucky, a product with a sound reputation. It seems the Bradford Bourbon Company is in serious financial trouble, the depth of which has yet to be plumbed by a Wall Street friend Lane has persuaded to go through the books. Meanwhile, there are appearances to be kept up, a funeral to arrange, and a raft of other decisions to be made by a man overwhelmed by his new responsibilities.
The financial complications of the family business are nothing compared to the dramas unfolding at the estate. While Edward remains secluded at the Red & Black Stables on the estate, tending the thoroughbred racing stock through an alcoholic haze, only daughter “Gin” terrorizes the household staff with her demands, a spoiled heiress who thinks only of herself. Her teenaged daughter, Amelia, born out of wedlock, has conveniently been sent away to school. Gin is about to marry Richard Pford, heir to a liquor distribution company fortune.
Third son Maxwell, the second eldest Baldwine son, has been away for years, far removed from the current drama. And while the beleaguered Lane is in the process of divorcing his faithless wife, Chantal, he has fully committed his heart to the lively Lizzie King, the horticulturist who has devoted herself to the grounds at Easterly for over a decade.
Outside immediate family members, Samuel T. Lodge is critical to Lane’s success in rescuing the Bradford Bourbon Company. As Lane’s attorney, Samuel T. advises Lane in making critical decisions regarding business affairs, eyeing a complete restructuring of what the patriarch has wrought. Unfortunately for Samuel T., he is the only man Gin has ever truly loved, each living in a self-imposed purgatory, never to be joined. Then there is Miss Aurora Toms, head chef at Easterly, who has taken the children of this troubled family under her wing, earning the sobriquet of “momma” and the only safe haven they have ever known.
Although this is the second book in the series, Ward weaves the pertinent details of
The Bourbon Kings seamlessly into the novel’s narrative, tying old conflicts to new, moving characters in and out in the next incarnation of company and private affairs, a morass of problems to be solved if the company is to be kept solvent. It’s a familiar generational tale of family wealth, secrets and loyalties, the larger-than-life personalities that fit so perfectly into the Southern landscape with all its lush beauty and hidden faults. The Angels' Share (The Bourbon Kings)--the title linked to a distillation process that also mimics life--is Lane’s particular challenge, called upon to relinquish his former life to hold this dysfunctional family together. It is one more chapter in the evolution of a family bound by business and blood, on the cusp of a future absent an over-weaning patriarch, free for the first time to chart a different course.