Well Bred and Dead: A High Society Mystery


Newly widowed Pauline Cook was once the toast of the Windy City elite—but now she's practically broke. At least she's in better shape than her dear departed friend Ethan Campbell, whose corpse Pauline has had the misfortune to discover. A writer who chronicled the lives, loves, and ensembles of the Gold Coast's most elegant ladies, Ethan apparently took his own life—while inelegantly clad in old boxers, no less. And since no relatives are coming forward to claim Ethan's remains, it falls to Pauline to settle his ...

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Well Bred and Dead

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Newly widowed Pauline Cook was once the toast of the Windy City elite—but now she's practically broke. At least she's in better shape than her dear departed friend Ethan Campbell, whose corpse Pauline has had the misfortune to discover. A writer who chronicled the lives, loves, and ensembles of the Gold Coast's most elegant ladies, Ethan apparently took his own life—while inelegantly clad in old boxers, no less. And since no relatives are coming forward to claim Ethan's remains, it falls to Pauline to settle his final affairs . . . with her own dwindling funds.

However, there are things about Ethan's suicide that don't seem to add up: the ratty undergarments he "chose" to die in, for example . . . and the multiple birth certificates the police turn up in his apartment. Before she can truly lay her friend to rest, plucky Pauline's determined to get to the bottom of his increasingly suspicious death.

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Editorial Reviews

Judith Michael
“Fun and fast-paced, with some delicious twists...a terrific get-away-from-it-all-read.”
Frank McCourt
“A hell of a storyteller, a master of plot, [and] a tart observer of the social scene.”
The State (Columbia
“...transports the reader on gales of dry wit. Humor abounds...”
The State (Columbia)
"...transports the reader on gales of dry wit. Humor abounds..."
Judith Michael
"Fun and fast-paced, with some delicious twists...a terrific get-away-from-it-all-read."
The State (Columbia))
"...transports the reader on gales of dry wit. Humor abounds..."
Publishers Weekly
Meet Pauline Cook, star of O'Connell's sparkling stand-alone. Cook, a widowed Chicago socialite, is devastated by the apparent suicide of her dear friend, gay society columnist Ethan Campbell. The police turn up a small stash of birth certificates in Ethan's apartment, and Pauline begins to wonder if her boon companion-always a bit cagey about his past-was who he claimed to be. Her search for answers takes her to England; Boston; Rochester, N.Y.; and Charleston, S.C. Along the way, several wealthy suitors woo Pauline-kudos to O'Connell (Skins) for the frank, funny writing about middle-aged sexual desire. Character development proceeds along predictable lines. Despite being perilously close to running out of money, Pauline shops when the going gets tough. The surprising denouement includes a last line that's laugh-out-loud funny. Fans of Nancy Martin's Blackbird Sisters mysteries will enjoy Pauline's escapades. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After she discovers her best friend dead, an apparent suicide, widowed Chicago socialite Pauline Cook soon learns that she is also the executrix of his will, meaning that she will have to pay all his expenses. Pauline maxes out her credit cards while trying to solve the murder of a friend she didn't really know. Unfortunately, Pauline is not a very sympathetic character; seeing the world through her upper-crust eyes can be off-putting. An optional purchase. O'Connell lives in Aspen, CO.

—Jo Ann Vicarel
Kirkus Reviews
If you can't be too rich or too thin, can you be too dead, or not dead enough?Her best friend Ethan Campbell's suicide makes socialite Pauline Cook wonder whether his life was a sham-a question she needs to answer before laying him to rest. The birth certificate in his apartment bears the name Daniel Kehoe. That's enough information to start Pauline on a search that leads to England, where she falls for handsome Irishman Terrance Sullivan. She travels to Boston to discover that the Kehoes had moved to Rochester, where she finds Daniel's half-sister. But a trip to the Charleston area with Terrance uncovers hints that her Ethan may have killed the real Ethan and stolen his identity. Back in Chicago, she's approached by an estate bounty hunter who tells her that Ethan/Daniel was the illegitimate son of a wealthy Boston man who's left him half his estate. As his legatee, Pauline stands to inherits a hunk of $33 million-money she badly needs, because since running through her late husband's small estate, she's been maintaining her extravagant lifestyle on credit that is about to run dry. The newly rich Pauline is leaving for Paris when Ethan comes back from the dead, provoking a dangerous duel of wits. O'Connell's debut is a wry look at the lifestyles of the rich and an amusing mystery with a twist in its tail.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061122156
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/23/2007
  • Series: High Society Mystery Series
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine O'Connell divides her time between Chicago and Aspen, and sits on the board of the Aspen Writers' Foundation. A graduate of the University of Colorado School of Journalism, she is also the author of Well Bred and Dead.

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Read an Excerpt

Well Bred and Dead

A High Society Mystery
By Catherine O'Connell

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Catherine O'Connell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061122156

Chapter One

Cold Lunch

The thing that really irks me is that I paid for Ethan's funeral. At the time it seemed like the right thing to do, seeing as he had made me his heir. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn't have put out a single sou, much less the small fortune I spent to see to it that he had a proper send-off. But Ethan knew me all too well and knew I would tidy things for him, that I wouldn't be able to live with the thought of his remains ending up in some unmarked grave or as an anonymous pile of ash in the county morgue.

Looking back, much of his deception shouldn't have come as a surprise. There were inconsistencies about him all along, starting with his awkward table manners and ending with the seedy area in which he lived. These are not customarily the ways of one to the manner born. But Ethan was a writer, and since writers are known for their eccentricities, I simply chose to attribute Ethan's to his literary bent. Thus, not only did Ethan's charade take me completely unaware but the depth of it was as unanticipated as an earthquake in the Midwest.

Now I'm getting ahead of myself. Though Ethan's story really begins the moment he was conceived, it became my undoing the day I went to his apartment and found the body. Prior to that, the thought of Ethan as anything other thanmy best friend would never have crossed my mind. What followed afterward just shows how little we know those we think we know best.

It was the rare spring day in Chicago, a city whose climate can best be summed up in two words: winter and August. The sky was a cloudless silky blue, the air wrung dry by a westerly wind that whisked the city's notorious humidity out over the lake. The swollen buds on the trees looked ready to burst their seams, and the sweet scent of cherry blossoms perfumed the breeze. Venus rising from the foam, spring coaxed, and her public was happily seduced.

My mood was exceptional as I stepped from my co-op building onto the short costly street known as East Lake Shore Drive. Across the busy lanes of the outer drive, Lake Michigan stretched endlessly before me, her slate blue waves folding gently onto the shore. The public beach bristled with humanity as the prisoners of Midwestern winter took advantage of the unexpected parole. Joggers and bicyclists crowded the paved trail while sunbathers sprawled across the sand, guilelessly soaking up the sun's disfiguring rays. Apart from the crowd, two lovers were entwined on a hastily thrown blanket, groping each other with abandon. Indifferent to the presence of other beachgoers or the vantage point of the high-rise buildings that loomed above them, they acted as though they were the only souls on earth. I watched their antics with a pang of envy, realizing that far more than a few lanes of asphalt separated our worlds.

I turned and walked away at a leisurely pace, past the tulip-filled gardens and Beaux Arts facades of the city's priciest real estate. When I reached the Drake at the end of the block, the doorman nodded at me in polite recognition. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Cook," he said, tipping his hat. He swept the door open with a gloved hand. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

"It is indeed, Raymond." I acknowledged him with a polite smile. Ethan and I had a standing twelve-thirty reservation in the Cape Cod Room every Wednesday afternoon, so our faces were well known at the hotel. Our ritual had been established after our very first meeting more than five years before, and was never broken unless one of us was out of town--or if something of greater urgency came up.

I stopped inside the arcade to check my watch and noted with satisfaction that the time was one o'clock, making me precisely thirty minutes late for my lunch date. I seldom arrive anyplace on time. I feel it makes one look desperate. Farther down the corridor, a couple of attractive men in business suits were locked in what appeared to be serious conversation. Upon seeing me they fell silent, their heads pivoting as their eyes followed me to the restaurant entrance. When one is a five-foot-ten redhead with extremely long legs, one becomes accustomed to such responses. Although I'm certain it didn't hurt that I was wearing my new magenta suit from Feraud's spring collection, an acquisition that cost far more than I had any right to spend at the time. But it fit me as though it were designed with me in mind, and besides, I'm a winter. Bright colors flatter me. As a woman ages, she must learn to become less dependent on her looks and more dependent on her style. With my half-century mark looming ominously before me in the coming year, mere days before the world would pass into the new millennium, I had already learned to appreciate how one's clothes can carry the day as the other attributes fade.

Not that I conceded to fading quite yet. One thing I had to thank my mother for was good genes. From her side of the gene pool came my long legs; auburn hair; a compact, slightly upturned nose; luminous skin; and an ample bosom. I say ample, not large, thankfully. Nothing like those dreadful drooping appendages Sunny Livermore was cursed with or the overinflated balloons Whitney Armstrong had surgically installed. Finding couture to hang properly over bustlines like those must be challenging at best.

The only thing I inherited from my father was my eyes. Ironically, many say they are my best feature. Deep-set and emerald green, they tilt slightly upward at the corners like a cat's. When we first met, Henry used to tease me about their color, saying he thought my eyes couldn't possibly get any greener until he saw them reflect money.


Excerpted from Well Bred and Dead by Catherine O'Connell Copyright © 2007 by Catherine O'Connell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Reading Group Guide


ABOUT: Pauline Cook is an elegant and beautiful widow in her forties whose fortune has diminished to the extent that she is forced to contemplate selling her penthouse, or worse, acquiring a second husband! When Pauline discovers the corpse of her dear friend Ethan Campbell, an apparent suicide, her own misfortunes appear trivial in comparison. That is, until no living relatives come forward to claim the writer's body and Pauline realizes it will fall to her to bear the costs of the funeral and memorial service. As the news of Ethan's death flies through Chicago's Gold Coast high society, Pauline must work overtime to keep the gossip hounds and ladies-who-lunch at bay. Puzzled by multiple birth certificates the police find in Ethan's apartment, as well as the tableau of his death—a man who spent his adult life chronicling the lives of society women does not shoot himself wearing a bourgeois ensemble of t-shirt and boxers—Pauline climbs off her high society roost to find out who the mysterious Ethan Campbell really was before his shady past puts Pauline and her bank account in serious jeopardy!

Questions for Discussion

QUESTION: 1. Is Pauline a sympathetic character? Does she grow from her experiences? Is she a different person at the end of the book?

2. Is Ethan evil or a victim of his circumstances? Do you believe his story about the fate of the original Ethan Campbell?

3. On page 41, Pauline speaks about the aftermath of death. When one is first confronted with death, the numbing shock basically gets one through the initial days. But it's the ensuing weeks and months and even years after the death that prove far more difficult, when the totality of the passing settles in. Death is in the times the phone doesn't ring, the day one doesn't have to seek out a birthday gift or send a postcard from abroad, the emptiness of unlocking the door to a lifeless home. The wasted thought, Henry/Mother/Grandmother, would love this place/dress/vase. This was where death affected me the most, in the staggering weight of the small details rather than the grand. Do you agree? Have you felt similar emotions?

4. Why doesn't Terrance sleep with Pauline?

5. What do you think of Pauline's peer group? What does Pauline think of her peers? Do any of the characters remind you of someone you know?

6. Who do you see as the most honest character in the book? What do you think of Lord and Lady Grace? Did Lord G. get what he deserved?

7. Which does Pauline fear most, growing old or being penniless?

8. Do you think Pauline puts too much emphasis on manners in today's culture?

9. Why does Pauline honor Whitney's secret?

10. What do you think is going to happen to Pauline?

Author's note: Did anyone look up the definition of the Latin express used for the Chapter 37 heading, Nemo me Impune Lacessit? It's my favorite. No one harms me with impunity!

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 4, 2009

    Fun little beach read which turns out to be quite a mystery

    I bought the book because I'm from Chicago and the story takes place there in the classy Gold Coast using local backdrops and themes. I really bought it for my twenty-something daughter who lives in Chicago and knows most of the places in the book, but decided to read it first just for fun. It is an easy read for lying around at the beach or for late afternoons or those last few minutes before sleep. It started out predictably with middle-aged Gold Coast women-of-means whose lives revolve around money, men with money, and things you can buy with money. The odd character in the bunch was an unattractive, but published author who had become the 'darling' of these wealthy women. Then, early in the story, he suddenly dies....an apparent suicide. One woman, a 49-year old attractive widow with dwindling means, his closest friend in the group, sets out to find his family (to bury him) and figure out how this talented man who was about to publish his next book could have killed himself----all the while trying to find her next wealthy husband and head off her creditors. The predictablility ends soon enough as she uncovers clue after clue and the plot takes on twist after twist. There is no way to see where this story is going as it grabs you, takes off, and won't let go. By the time you realize something really is incredibly amiss in this author's life and death, you simply cannot stop reading until the end. It actually becomes a fast and fun mystery thriller. And each time you think you have figured out where it's going, it goes in another direction---right down to the very last page. It turned out to be a great, fun read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2007

    Tedious at times, but worthwhile.

    I would give this book 5 stars for plot and story line. But it was severely bogged down by descriptions of clothing, background, social events -- frustrating when the action comes to a grinding halt. Another drawback is that the author is not completely comfortable in a social strata to which the central figure supposedly belongs -- and the errors stick out like sore thumbs. The central character is extremely shallow, and not particularly likable -- thus my lack luster rating. Worth a read, though, for plot, and some humorous writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2007

    You go girl! Pauline is my kind of woman!

    You meet Pauline Cook and instantly realize that she's a woman who knows what she wants and makes things happen. When her dear friend, Ethan, suddenly dies, Pauline is the friend who steps up to make funeral arrangements while her instincts tell her to do some investigating on what really happened to her friend. Pauline entertains with her flair for fashion and her love to spend money on the very best even though her mutual funds have run dry. You can't help but love this woman. There are several turns at the end that surprise and delight. Hoping this new author pens a sequel. My book club loved it.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    terrific amateur sleuth thriller

    Chicago socialite Pauline Cook remains shocked not just because she found his body. She understands grieving the death of her best friend high society writer Ethan Campbell, but she cannot comprehend why he committed suicide especially in a T-shirt as he knew the importance of a proper exit. She also wonders how she was so oblivious she saw no signs of his distress. Pauline needs to know the answers to those questions for her well being so she looks around Ethan¿s apartment for clues where she finds a birth certificate with the name Daniel Kehoe on it. The determined Pauline follows up on that name until evidence sends her to England where she meets Irishman Terrance Sullivan. However, the mission continues as she follows the clues this time to Boston and on to Rochester where she meets Daniel's half-sister. This leads her to Charleston where she begins to believe that her Ethan killed the original Ethan. Heartbroken even with Terrance accompanying her, Pauline goes home where an estate bounty hunter insists her Ethan was the illegitimate son of a late wealthy Bostonian man who left him a fortune that she will inherit. Suddenly wealthy Pauline decides a trip to Paris is just the thing to enable her to move on except everything comes full circle when she encounters her immediate past in France. --- WELL BRED AND DEAD is a terrific amateur sleuth thriller that may be the debut mystery of the year. The story line amusingly looks at high society, whose mavens believe image is everything and so do almost anything including spin doctoring to maintain the veneer of an affluent lifestyle even when the credit cards are beyond the max. The why issue is cleverly designed so that the readers need to accompany Pauline on her oceanic journey while the final twist that answers the key question will stun the audience yet seem so right. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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