Manor House


This seemed like just another wild exaggeration from the myriad designers and decorators for whom the ultimate accolade is to be featured in the pages of the world's most exclusive, most sumptuous, most discriminating design magazine - until late one night in Hollywood when a dark figure put a bullet through the head of Beau Paxton, Manor House's flamboyant editor in chief. Enter Pierpont Tree and China Carlyle: he's the devastatingly handsome and urbane scion of an old Santa Barbara family; she's a ravishingly ...
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1997 Hardcover New in new dust jacket. First Edition. First Edition, New Hardcover with dust jacket, clean, tight, unmarked, (Fine with Fine Dust Jacket), All orders are ... shipped by kbooks every business day. Read more Show Less

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This seemed like just another wild exaggeration from the myriad designers and decorators for whom the ultimate accolade is to be featured in the pages of the world's most exclusive, most sumptuous, most discriminating design magazine - until late one night in Hollywood when a dark figure put a bullet through the head of Beau Paxton, Manor House's flamboyant editor in chief. Enter Pierpont Tree and China Carlyle: he's the devastatingly handsome and urbane scion of an old Santa Barbara family; she's a ravishingly beautiful flame-haired film star who retired at the peak of her career. He minds the family ranch; she dabbles in writing. Together, they investigate murders. And the murder of Beau Paxton leaves Pier and China with quite a crowd of suspects: the twin brothers who own Manor House - and who held a multimillion-dollar insurance policy on Beau's life; the beautiful young managing editor, the real brains behind Beau's flashy, figurehead position; the society gossip columnist who coveted Beau's position for herself; Beau's roommate and "uncle," who argued with him publicly the night of the murder; and a whole world of designers and dealers, players and wanna-be's, high rollers and lowlifes, whose desires and ambitions make Manor House a magazine to die for. With the kind of knowledge and attention to detail only a seasoned insider can supply, Paige Rense takes us on an unflaggingly stylish journey to the heart of the mystery, and in the process offers a keyhole peep into some of the most private, rarefied chambers in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and New York - a world where people pay $750,000 for an antique desk, and a wealthy widow refits her barbecue pit with an eternal flame in memory of her late decorator. Elegant, witty, and wise, Manor House is a boundingly readable novel from the pen of a compelling writer.

Legendary Architectural Digest Editor-in-Chief Paige Rense makes a dazzling debut as a novelist, introducing a pair of incomparable sleuths--a Nick and Nora for the 1990s. 256 pp. Targeted ads & 3-city author tour. 40,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Longtime Architectural Digest editor Rense's frothy debut novel is an uninspired murder mystery gilded with a steady steam of interior design-world minutiae. When Beau Paxton, editor-in-chief of the absurdly exclusive Manor House magazine, is shot to death outside Le Club, a tony West Los Angeles watering hole, the list of possible suspects is longer than a decorator's tape measure. Every interior designer who ever had work rejected by the magazine wanted him dead. So, too, did long-suffering managing editor, Meg Millar, the magazine's owners, twin brothers Seth and Jonas Rupert, and the sinister Fred Hawkins, a conspicuous spender who wants to buy Manor House and make his Argentine bombshell trophy wife the editor. Stepping in to find the killer are Santa Barbara's Pierpont Tree III, private eye and wealthy recluse, and his girlfriend, retired movie star and recovering alcoholic China Carlyle. Feebly imitating Nick and Nora Charles (minus the cocktails), Pier and China sleuth their way through the lifestyles of the rich and idle, encountering moguls who buy estates just to house their cars, people for whom shopping is a form of meditation and a client who mourns her dearly departed decorator by transforming her patio barbecue pit into an eternal flame. There are entertaining asides on the magazine business and the decorating demimonde, but the plot seems lifted from an elaborate game of Clue, and the denouement falls flat. Lavish interiors are the real star of the show here, described in excruciating detail right down to the last needlepoint pillow-fitting in a book which, like its protagonists and villains, pays more attention to objets than to character. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In her first novel, Rense seems to be aiming for the ultrahip, elegant variation on the mystery genre perfected by Dashiell Hammett. Rich, handsome Pierpont Tree, scion of a respected Santa Barbara family, loves ravishing China Carlyle, who retired from the moviemaking life with a drinking problem. The lovers investigate the murder of the editor of Manor House magazine, a lush decorating publication where the moneyed would "kill" to have their homes featured. Suspects include the twin brother publishers and the female managing editor, as well as the victim's male lover and the woman he was engaged to. Pier and China solve the mystery in record time, all without breaking a sweat and failing to engage the reader. While Rense obviously knows her setting (she's the editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest), her characters are irritating and shallow (particularly vexing is a female, Dilly, who plays polo and uses the word spit as an expletive. A more disturbing flaw is a condescending attitude toward the story's minority characters. Not recommended.-Laurel A. Wilson, Alexandrian P.L., Mount Vernon, Ind.
Kirkus Reviews
"Are you the editor?" the hit man asks, and seconds later Beau Paxton, leaving Le Club in West Los Angeles with his roommate and "uncle" Norton Birdwell, is the late editor of Manor House, that paean to upscale design and unfettered consumerism. Manor House publisher Seth Rupert, unimpressed by the LAPD's interest in Birdwell as Beau's quarreling lover and insurance policy beneficiary, asks Pierpont Tree III, the oldest- money private eye in the L.A. directory, to look into the case in his inimitably civilized way. So Pier and his inamorata, lovely retired actress China Carlyle, hit the mean streets, attending an amusingly bitchy party for a sultan who can't imagine why Liz Taylor and Madonna haven't shown up, gathering information from gossipy lovers and artists and interior designers, and eventually giving due weight to the fact that Seth's partner and twin Jonas is deeply in debt to a shady New York investor who's determined to buy Manor House and ship his hideous wife out to the coast to run it and stay out of his hair. Most of the characters, though, rise above the violence into an ethereal region of tasteful fashion, aimless chitchat, and brand-name product placement, as if they were in a Dominick Dunne screenplay with its gilded pages shuffled into random sequence.

At the fadeout, the triumphant lovers seem destined for further action, just like Nick and Nora. But Architectural Digest editor Rense's first mystery is more likely to whet your appetite for Robert B. Parker's first book on interior decor.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385485029
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/17/1997
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.43 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Paige Rense plotted and executed the rise of Architectural Digest to the pinnacle it sits on today--the top of the highly competitive field of international design publications.  For several years she was the only person to hold the position of editor in chief of three magazines simultaneously--Architectural Digest, Bon Appetit, and Geo.  She has also edited eleven Architectural Digest books, including The Worlds of...series, and is the author of Decorating for Celebrities.  A longtime resident of Santa Barbara, Rense now divides her time between Los Angeles, New York, and Vermont, where she lives with her husband, the artist Kenneth Noland.
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Read an Excerpt

No one lives in Beverly Hills There's no place left for living. In the eighties, it became one big board game for speculators, who would parlay an undistinguished house from two million to six million in eighteen months. They razed houses and built pseudo-swell structures on every square inch of property. Lawns were vanquished as the S&L's moved forward, armed with their Ugly House Kits, until real estate slumped down.

Although the real estate market dived down, determinedly seeking the bottom, traffic picked up. The light is harsh, the air curiously yellow, crime prevails and everyone coughs a lot.

Pier knew that China, sitting next to him in the passenger seat of his father's old Bentley, was nervous about the evening. He knew she was wondering if she could get through a big Hollywood party without drinking. She held her chin high, as if going into battle, that heartbreaking profile backlit by the streetlights. Pier turned left just before the Beverly Hills Hotel, then slowed north of Sunset to join the line of limousines and foreign motorcars moving slowly up the narrow street, lacquered metal gleaming, lubricated precision engines growling richly. "If we were in the old Range Rover," Pier pointed out, "we could drive right over all those cars ahead."

"I always feel we should be looking for watering holes," said China.

Pier turned and looked down at her. "You are the most gorgeous woman God ever created. They'll all want you to do another movie."

"Never again." China reached for Pier's hand. "I keep taking a deep breath but it doesn't help. I'm nervous. There'll be a lot of industry people at the party; as many as the Sultan can packinto his humble forty-million-dollar Gothic castle. He wants to buy a studio. Or so I hear. So they'll all turn out for the new player."

"Which studio?"

"Any with soundstages. He loves soundstages. He'd probably like to have his own lion, too."

"China, I know we're here to give moral support to Lulu. She's your friend and they're paying her a lot of money to sing for her supper, but what about all the other people?"

"You mean, why are they here when they could have stayed at home watching Jeopardy? Well, they all want everyone to know they're on the A list and they want to see who else is on the list. Or, more important, who isn't. This is the place to be tonight. Furthermore, the ladies need something to talk about when they meet for lunch tomorrow. You want to move to Beverly Hills so we can do this a lot?"

"I'd answer that but we've actually arrived."

A young parking attendant in black tie gave Pier a ticket for his car. "Sir, one of the Rolls will take you and the lady to the house."

"Can't we just walk?"

"The Sultan wants his guests to ride. He had seven Rolls shipped here from his own collection in Paris just for this party."

"Then by all means, we will Rolls up the hill."

China grimaced as another attendant in black tie opened the door and helped her into the Rolls.

"Excuse me, ma'am, aren't you China Carlyle?"

"Yes, I am." China blinded him with a full-voltage smile.

"You're my mother's favorite movie star."

"Oh, thank you so much. You may close the car door on your hand."

"He didn't hear you. It could have been worse. What if he hadn't recognized you at all?"

China didn't seem to hear.

"If only I could have a drink to get me through this. Don't worry, Pier, I won't, but sometimes it just hits me. All dressed up going to a big party, lots of industry people, buzz, juice, electricity. It all goes with champagne. At least, it used to. Before. Thank goodness I met you early in the evening. Any later and I might have slurred a word here and there and you would have passed me by."

The Rolls glided to a stop at the entrance to the Gothic monolith. Another black-tied attendant opened the car door for China. Pier took her arm and they entered through an allee of magnolia trees created by society's favorite florist, Doug Jones. A tuxedoed young man took their drink orders while another checked their names against the list on his clipboard. He directed them to a table nearby, where a young woman, also wearing a tuxedo, smiled at China and handed Pier two small envelopes with their seat assignments. China watched as he opened them.

"We're both at the Gone With the Wind table."

"Ah-hah. No one can tell which table is Number One. Of course, it will be the table with the Sultan and anyone who might sell him a movie studio. Well, we might as well mingle. Oh, Pier, there's Julie Warren. Over there. The brunette with the glasses. She writes a column for the L.A Tribune. Knows everything that's going on. I'm sure she knew Beau Paxton. Come on, let's find out."

China led the way and Pier marveled once again as people stepped back to make way for her. Some knew her and spoke. Some smiled. Some stared. Some pretended they weren't looking. She acknowledged a greeting with a word or two to this one and that one but never stopped moving. China seemed to radiate an electrically charged field, a magnetic force that cleared a path for her. She seemed unconscious of her effect but Pier knew she wasn't. It was her uncanny ability to command attention by switching to an inner channel at will.

Julie Warren saw China, beamed and moved toward her, honing in on the heat generated by her fame. "China, you look more gorgeous than ever. Oh, I wish the Sultan had allowed my photographer to come. No press tonight, except yours truly. No paparazzi allowed outside either. And you," she turned her attention to Pier, "must be China's mystery man from Santa Barbara. My God, China, you didn't tell me he looks like Harrison Ford!"

She held out her hand to Pier. "I'm Julie Warren, L.A. Tribune. You are Pierpont Tree, aren't you?" Pier nodded assent. "Well, I'm delighted to meet you at last. Now, tell me, are you two married or not?"

"Not and no further comment," China replied, moving on with "Julie, we're the country bumpkins in the big city. You're the one who knows it all. What's this party all about? And how come they're serving alcohol? I thought it was forbidden."

"Oh, they're not Muslims," said Julie. "Or at least I don't think they are. But China, you haven't given Pier a chance to say a word and I want to hear whatever he has to say. Pier," Julie continued at a pace allowing no interruption, "you look rugged enough to do Marlboro commercials." A waiter appeared with their drinks. Pier handed China her water with lime and asked Julie if she would like another. She declined as Pier took his Scotch and looked down at her heart-shaped face. Bangs brushed the tops of her tortoise-rimmed glasses, her skin was layered with white powder and lipstick outlined the kind of Cupid's bow mouth not seen since silent films. Mascara beaded her lashes. Around fifty, Pier guessed. Less than five feet tall. He bent down to speak to her. "Julie, China tells me you know everything so I want to hear it all. I don't leave the high country much."

Julie's eyes squinted as she looked up at Pier doubtfully. "But what about those oh-so-private investigations of yours? Are you here tonight to investigate something?"

"Sorry. Lulu asked China to lend moral support and China asked me to come along."

"Mmmm. Lulu just got out of Betty Ford's recently, didn't she? Again," Julie added pointedly, then turned her attention back to China. A star is a star. Pier, relieved, straightened up and looked around the room. The stem of Julie's glasses pressed her chin, making a dimple. "Look around, China. All the women of a certain age have read that collagen knocks out your immune system. They've stopped having the shots and their faces are collapsing. Absolutely collapsing right before our eyes!" Julie turned away as if the awful spectacle were too painful to behold, then changed the subject abruptly while studying China's face for signs of surgery. "This could be a big chance for Lulu to show everyone she still has it. Do you think she does, China?"

"Julie, when you have talent like hers, you never lose it. But she's fighting laryngitis."

"That's what Cisco Milan said when he canceled that big concert last month. Poor man. At his age he shouldn't be running around the country doing one-night stands. He has Alzheimer's, you know." China shot Julie a warning look, hoping to stop her, but Julie rattled on. "...he can't remember lyrics without a Teleprompter anymore. Bonnie," she looked up at Pier conspiratorially and added, "that's his wife, is spending his money as fast as she can so his kids by all his previous wives can't get it. And that's not all..."

China interjected firmly, "Julie, tell me about this house. Who's the Sultan's decorator? Count Dracula?"
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Table of Contents

1 Like a Teenager Who's Been in a Fight 11
2 Sleepless Nights, 50-Year-Old Feet, and Other Little Signs 13
3 Pollen Counts, the Fruit Plate, and Hat-Store Memories 27
4 The James Bond Pleasures, and Other Truths of 50 41
5 Perspectives from Miles Off Youthquake Beach 56
6 Dana Andrews' Sons, Barbara Stanwyck's Daughters 72
7 The Saturday Night Crowd and Our Parents' America 86
8 The Ladder with No Top Rung 102
9 Uncle Phil in Your Bedroom Mirror 118
10 The Hyatt Regency Shady Acres, and Other Marketing Strategies 134
11 You Guys Don't Belong at Urban Outfitters 151
12 Life's Unanswered Questions: Toasters, Coleslaw, Davy Crockett 166
13 The Road to Happiness Is Paved with Dubble Bubble 181
14 Hope Is Right Around the Corner 197
15 "Those Guys Must Be Having So Much Fun" 210
16 Ike's Roads and Bogey's Nights: Going and Staying Put 226
17 The Things You'd Like to Get Back 239
18 "Who Moved That Lamp?": The New, Cranky You 255
19 Looking Toward a Future Without Mount Rushmore 267
20 Ballparks and Wal-Marts, Rewards and Joys 282
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