Conflicts of Interest
PublisherJohn Murray
Date Published01 June 2017
Price£ 13.99

Conflicts of Interest

by Terry Stiastny

Former journalist Lawrence Leith’s life in a French village is disrupted when an old friend comes to visit.


It is the day on which a carved figure of a saint is carried through the village streets to bless the festival held in his honour. Lawrence Leith is a once successful television journalist who lost his job owing to a mixture of the digital revolution and a self-serving boss. He’s in his early 50s, divorced, and virtually retired, living alone in a village in southern France. One day, he’s sitting at his favourite table on the terrace of the restaurant when an old friend arrives.

It is Martin Elliot who owns a house in the village which he uses essentially as a holiday home. Like Lawrence, he had been a journalist and both had gained an MBA qualification at the same time, although only Martin had profited from it. He has been very successful in providing advice on finance and marketing and has become a wealthy man. He reminds Lawrence that he is expected at a party at Martin’s house later in the day – an invitation that Lawrence feels has an ulterior motive.

Martin seems to have everything that Lawrence lacks – a loving wife and family, a large amount of money and important people as friends. Some of these important people are present at the party when Lawrence arrives there. Sylvie Barroux is a member of the French government who, it is rumoured, once had an affair with the President. Her brother, Christophe Vernet, is a wealthy man from a landed family and Isabelle, his wife, is a doctor who helps to run an NGO, a medical charity. Julian Heathcote has made a fortune selling expensive children’s snacks which are supposed to be healthy. His wife, Victoria, is a minister in the British Government.

For Martin this kind of gathering is a symbol of his success, as is the newly-renovated 18th century mansion that is his holiday home and which was bought at a bargain price from Christophe. However, things are not quite as they seem. Rumours are circulating in France about Christophe and the source of his money – rumours that involve corrupt African politicians. It soon becomes clear that the rumours have spread to the UK. Lawrence sees that Martin’s purchase of a house from him on what appear to be very generous terms could be regarded with suspicion. This could not have come at a worse time for Martin because Mr Elliot is about to become Lord Elliot.

The story is told from two points of view – those of Martin and Lawrence and we see that, although they still regard themselves as friends, there are significant differences between them. It is easy for the reader to be more attracted to the apparently easy-going Lawrence, particularly when he discovers that Martin is having an affair with Isabelle, Christophe’s wife. However, it soon becomes obvious that Lawrence himself is not free of the desire to re-enter public life, to be somebody again and when he has the chance to do so he seizes it. His friendship with Martin’s wife, Iona, which appears at one point to be turning into something more than friendship, doesn’t prevent him pursuing an investigation into Martin’s financial activities. If this means the end of his friendship with Iona and the beginning of a business relationship with his unpleasant former wife, Harriet, then so be it.

This is very much a morality tale about the conflict between, on the one hand, public life, with its requirement for compromise, and, on the other, friendship and old loyalties. This book is not in any sense a thriller and the plot develops slowly. In spite of that, it is full of surprises for the reader and never ceases to grip.

Reviewed 30 September 2017 by Arnold Taylor