Murder at San Simeon: A Novel of Suspense

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The time was the Roaring Twenties: those prosperous, carefree years after World War I and before the Great Depression. Hollywood was in the throes of talkies, and California's Gold Coast had become a mecca for the world's greatest stars. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst built a castle by the sea for his film star mistress Marion Davies and named it San Simeon. It became a playground for the rich and famous, celebrated for its posh parties and envied for its exclusivity. But in 1924, Hearst would briefly ...
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Overview

The time was the Roaring Twenties: those prosperous, carefree years after World War I and before the Great Depression. Hollywood was in the throes of talkies, and California's Gold Coast had become a mecca for the world's greatest stars. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst built a castle by the sea for his film star mistress Marion Davies and named it San Simeon. It became a playground for the rich and famous, celebrated for its posh parties and envied for its exclusivity. But in 1924, Hearst would briefly quit both his beloved San Simeon and Marion after the suspicious death of the film producer Thomas Ince aboard the Oneida, Hearst's luxury steam yacht. The guests the night of the murder included Charlie Chaplin and his young wife; John Barrymore; Elinor Glyn and her female lover; and Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst. The public pounced on the story. Even the Hearst newspapers couldn't control rumors of illegal, drunken behavior; of sexual excesses and jealous rages; of murder at San Simeon. The unsolved mystery became part of Hollywood lore. Catha Kinsolving Burke, an associate professor of history at Occidental College, never imagined that the death of her mother would throw her into the middle of a seventy-year-old drama. But her mother's deathbed words - "San Simeon" - compel Catha to visit the castle. During a tour, she overhears a tourist discussing the infamous murder and the woman wrongly charged - a woman named Abigail Kinsolving. The information leads Catha to Ethan Purnell, the original investigator of the Ince murder, who now resides in a nursing home. He permits her to examine his papers, which he has stored with his nephew, an idealistic young environmental lawyer named Lucas. Catha's desire for the truth becomes Lucas's, and the two will stop at nothing to achieve some sense of closure. Catha finds herself immersed in the surreal world of San Simeon in the 1920s and its glittering cast of characters as she uncovers many truths - ab
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The death, under mysterious circumstances, of a prominent Hollywood producer at William Randolph Hearst's legendary California estate, San Simeon, in the 1920s was never solved and quickly disappeared from public view. But not apparently from the mind of the newspaper mogul's granddaughter, who, with coauthor Biddle (Beneath the Wind), pens this tale based on that murder. Described with brio is the relationship between Hearst and his silent screen-star mistress, Marion Davies, whom the publisher kept a virtual prisoner at the castle where she took revenge by throwing wild parties and having assorted, barely concealed affairs. At their best when cataloguing the beauties and excesses of San Simeon, the authors are less successful with fictional character, Catha Kinsolving Burke. The story opens at the funeral of Catha's estranged mother. Catha is astonished to learn that her mother wished to have her ashes sprinkled at San Simeon. After honoring the request, Catha tours the estate and overhears a conversation that implicates her grandmother, personal assistant to Marion Davies, in a murder. The rest of the story alternates between Catha's search for information about her grandmother's real role in the murder and a recreation of life at San Simeon in the '20s. Catha's present-day angst just can't compete against the passions and other extravagances of Hearst's heyday: her mystery merely provides pallid packaging for the still lurid and juicy true-life one. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Legendary Hollywood producer Thomas Ince's 1924 death aboard news magnate William Randolph Hearst's yacht Oneida has long been listed officially as accidental—a heart attack brought on by acute indigestion—but dark rumors have circulated for just as long. Now along comes Hearst's granddaughter, partnered by historical yachting fantasist Biddle (Beneath the Wind, 1993), to clear the air. Or rather to muddy it more than ever, since Prof. Catha Kinsolving Burke, visiting Hearst's palatial San Simeon to scatter her late mother's ashes, gets wind of a rumor that her grandmother shot Ince—and sets out to clear her of charges no historian's ever made, since Abigail Kinsolving, secretary to Hearst inamorata Marion Davies, is as fictional as Catha herself. And she's a whole lot more fictional than the other suspects—Hearst, Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Lita Grey, Pola Negri, John Barrymore, Louella Parsons, and Elinor Glyn—aboard the Oneida. Though the cast is glittering, the plotting isn't; Catha has to spend well over half the novel figuring out why anybody would've suspected Abigail of murder before she can team up with an eligible L.A. lawyer to vindicate her.

Still, there's a certain charm in watching Patricia Hearst's demure fictional counterpart working like a beaver to get the lowdown on a crime 70 years away from her own sweet self.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684804231
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 8/6/1996
  • Pages: 283
  • Product dimensions: 9.57 (w) x 6.48 (h) x 1.05 (d)

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