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Well Read and Dead (High Society Mystery Series)
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Well Read and Dead (High Society Mystery Series)

4.3 9
by Catherine O'Connell

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The return of blue-blooded fashionista Pauline Cook, whose search for a missing friend leads her from an iconoclastic book group to the deepest and most unfashionable reaches of the Far East.

Back in Chicago after a disastrous European love affair, socialite Pauline Cook finds her finances nearly depleted, her co-op a shambles, and


The return of blue-blooded fashionista Pauline Cook, whose search for a missing friend leads her from an iconoclastic book group to the deepest and most unfashionable reaches of the Far East.

Back in Chicago after a disastrous European love affair, socialite Pauline Cook finds her finances nearly depleted, her co-op a shambles, and her best friend mysteriously missing—vanished along with Pauline's cat. Though Whitney Armstrong's husband offers a substantial reward for the return of his lost wife, Pauline can't help suspecting that his grief is merely an act. But it's a shocking suggestion by a member of Whitney's book club that really gets Pauline moving—halfway around the world, in fact, to Thailand . . . in spite of a psychic's warning of terrible danger.

In Asia, a morass of dark motives and deadly corporate intrigues await the intrepid globe-trotter. And all the high society connections in the world aren't going to ensure that Pauline makes it home alive. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Frank McCourt
“Ms. O’Connell is...a hell of a storyteller, a master of plot, [and] a tart observer of the social scene.”
“Readers will find themselves warming to this improbable high-society sleuth who challenges our assumptions about what a mystery heroine should be like.”
Michigan Avenue Magazine
“Spiked with suspense, romance and satirical jabs at high society, this Dominick Dunne-meets-Mary Higgins Clark adventure is a reader’s treat, delicately wrapped with literary allusions.”
Today's Chicago Woman
“A smart and urbane mystery set in Chicago’s high society.”
Chicago Sun-Times
“Among the least expensive ways to while away a few days of the recession...a rich romp not only through Chicago’s Gold Coast, where this fictional murder mystery unfolds, but also through the sometimes-cringe-inducing, sometimes hilarious “problems” of the old-money set.”
“O’Connell writes with a stiletto, drawing blood with every description of the moneyed, once-moneyed, and would-be moneyed in her newest romp of high living and mayhem. O’Connell can be sharply comical and deadly serious; it’s great fun to tag along with her and Pauline on their wild ride.”
Publishers Weekly

The perils of Pauline Cook, society widow extraordinaire, include some decidedly dark twists in O'Connell's otherwise lighthearted second mystery (after 2007's Well Bred and Dead). After a long, decadent European vacation, Pauline returns to a post-9/11 America to learn she's lost nearly $20 million in bad investments. Adding insult to injury, Air France loses her Louis Vuitton luggage, plus her best friend, Whitney Armstrong, who's been taking care of her precious cat, Fleur, has vanished, along with Fleur and Whitney's dogs. Whitney's grief-stricken husband, scion of the nation's largest lingerie empire, offers Pauline a multimillion-dollar reward to find Whitney. Pauline decides she could use the money to pay for unfinished renovations on her Chicago penthouse. Brimming with witty observations about the well-heeled and the machinations of greedy businessmen, this sophisticated romp takes the daring amateur sleuth all the way to Thailand and Vietnam. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Socialite Pauline Cook returns to Chicago to find that her best friend has disappeared, the Enron scandal has wiped out her personal fortune, and work on her apartment renovation has halted. Poor, homeless Pauline, with only $2 million to sustain her, takes up the challenge of finding her friend, which leads to Thailand and unexpected danger. O'Connell portrays the lives of the phenomenally wealthy with humor and a fondness for Pauline, who in a rare moment or two rises above her social status to attain a momentary flash of the heroic. For larger collections.

—Jo Ann Vicarel
Kirkus Reviews
A Chicago socialite tries to recover from financial losses by finding an industrialist's missing wife. Poor Pauline! After sailing the Adriatic in the arms of a splendidly muscled captain who turns out to have a splendidly pregnant wife ashore, ultra-wealthy Henry Cook's widow (Well Bred and Dead, 2007) comes home to find her fortune lost to Enron and her Vuitton luggage sent to Tahiti by Air France. Renovations to her penthouse, under the direction of impudent (but sexy and surprisingly literate) contractor Tag McKay, have stalled. So she checks into the Drake, stopping on the way to retrieve her cat Fleur, who's been parked for the duration with her best friend Whitney Armstrong. Alas, Fleur is gone, along with Whitney, who disappeared shortly after joining a women's book group. Whitney's teary-eyed husband Jack, owner of Verry Lingerie-whose panties sell for more than you earn in a week-offers Pauline $5 million to find his vanished bride. After a brief trip to Aspen and an abortive attempt to marry into Dexter Worthington Senior's considerable fortune, Pauline settles down to sleuth her way out of poverty. Getting in touch with her inner cougar, she teams up with Marcel, a 30-something computer geek whose office is the local Starbucks. Soon she's traced her quarry to Bangkok and is off to Indochina to collect her bounty. The battle between overbearing, superficial Pauline and her nascent social conscience is almost interesting until it's trashed by a climax out of deep left field.
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..."
The State (Columbia)
"...transports the reader on gales of dry wit. Humor abounds..."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
High Society Mystery Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

Well Read and Dead
A High Society Mystery

Chapter One

The Odyssey

My plastic surgeon assures me that not only will the burns heal entirely but that since they were only first-degree my skin might become smoother and younger looking than before. Frankly I'd rather have had the chemical peel. Cosmetic issues aside, it's the internal wounds that trouble me more. Are they also first degree or will they prove beyond healing? I suppose only the balm of time will tell. In the meantime while waiting to see the final results, I seldom stray from bed as I replay the drama of the last months over and over again. Though all the warnings were laid in front of me, they were too close for me to see them. Now each time I revisit the drama, it becomes clearer who the players were and who were merely chorus. But unfortunately, like all Greek tragedy, the outcome is always the same.

In retrospect, it may have been a bit excessive for a party of one to charter a hundred-and-twenty-foot yacht just for herself. At sixty thousand dollars a week. Plus gratuity. But my frivolity at the time was not without justification. Having chosen to spend the autumn in Europe while my penthouse underwent a renovation, I happened to be in Portofino the day a group of pathetic zealots commandeered four airplanes and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, killing untold numbers and propelling us mentally back to the Middle Ages. In the weeks following the disaster, nearly all my friends overseas decided to return stateside, turning the mood abroad so somber that I contemplated returning home myself. The problemwas that with my apartment under construction, I had no home to return to.

That's when Gianfranco entered the picture. I was strolling along the dock, wrestling over what course to take next, when I came upon him standing in the shadow of a sleek Benetti with the name Herakles stenciled in gold across her ample stern. With his tall, muscular frame draped in nautical whites, his sandy brown hair falling in loose curls along his face, and the regal profile of a Roman coin, he cut quite an Adonis-like figure. I stopped in pretense of admiring the yacht, and he engaged me in conversation, lamenting in broken English that his autumn charter had just been canceled. The Americans who had hired the Herakles for a tour of the antiquities were now too frightened to travel overseas. Perhaps I might be interested in such a charter? A quick tour of the vessel ensued, and my dilemma of how to spend the next months was solved. I chartered the orphaned Herakles myself. And felt rather patriotic about it, I might add. What better way to show the terrorists that Pauline Cook was not about to buckle under to their agenda of fear than by continuing to lead a full life?

I rushed back to the Splendido to settle my bill—a sum equal to the budget of a small third-world country—and soon thereafter my seven pieces of luggage and I were delivered dockside by the hotel's car. An hour later, I stood beside Gianfranco on the bridge of the yacht with a warm September breeze brushing my shoulders. As we watched the gentle hills of Portofino recede in the afternoon glow, my capitano assured me that I would never regret choosing to take this intimate tour.

"I will take-a you places you only dream of-a visit," he promised.

And take me he did. We hadn't made twenty nautical miles into the Adriatic when Gianfranco turned the wheel over to his first mate and escorted me belowdecks where he proved his sublimely tuned and tanned body to be more than seaworthy. For the next two and a half glorious months, certain all my interests at home were being looked after by competent parties, I gave little thought to the present-day world and immersed myself in the ancient one with Gianfranco as my captain, companion, and tour guide.

Together we explored the farthest reaches of the Hellenic and Roman empires. We visited Ilium, where the ill-fated Trojans made the poor choice of accepting the Greek's four-legged gift. We traipsed the ruins left by the Minoans at Knossos, often thought to be the lost civilization of Atlantis. We traveled to Actium where I felt the ghosts of Marc Antony and Cleopatra stir. When the weather grew cooler, we sailed south to Alexandria, the site of a library that once held 400,000 priceless scrolls whose ashes were now but dust in the wind.

And while the Herakles put in at one port after another, Gianfranco continued to put in at all points in between, a pastime I enjoyed as much, if not more, than the touring. Having breached the dreaded half-century mark over a year ago, I reveled in having a young paramour, though I did wonder what he would say if he knew he was making love to a woman nearly fifteen years his elder. Fortuitously, time had treated me well, and my skin did not reveal my age. This was the mixed blessing of growing up as a redhead who had to take shelter from the sun or risk looking like a beet. The summers of my youth were spent cowering beneath wide-brimmed hats and beach umbrellas while my peers cavorted gaily in the sun. Now while those same peers paid the price for their earlier freedom, having their faces pulled back to gather up the crevices carved out by youthful indiscretion, I gloried in the delayed benefits of my exile.

I had also been blessed with a trim figure, a benefit that comes along with standing five foot ten in one's stocking feet. And since I never bore children, there were no untoward stretch marks to be dealt with either, though I must concede each year the drapery of my body seemed to hang slightly lower. But this seemed to matter naught to my young lover, who claimed his preferences ran to mature women, explaining that the ripe-a pear-a has the sweetest taste and finest perfume while an unripe pear is hard-a and no taste-a so good.

Well Read and Dead
A High Society Mystery
. Copyright (c) by Catherine O'Connell . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Frank McCourt
“Ms. O’Connell is...a hell of a storyteller, a master of plot, [and] a tart observer of the social scene.”
Judith Michael
“Fun and fast-paced, with some delicious twists...a terrific get-away-from-it-all-read.”

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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Well Read and Dead (High Society Mystery Series) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
RomanceReaderForever More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one day because I could not put it down. I'd read the first one, WELL BRED AND DEAD, so I knew what to expect as far as the superb storytelling--both in the writing and the plotting, and the (I'll call her) outrageous main character go. And I wasn't disappointed. The main character, Pauline Cook, is hilarious because half the time she doesn't see where she's a snob and the other half of the time she does see it and can't imagine that anyone in her right mind could be otherwise under those circumstances. I laughed out loud so many times that my cats ran out of the room (I never said I had a dainty laugh!), especially during the short bedroom scene where Pauline thinks she's finally got the unattached, aging billionnaire right where she wants him. Pauline seems to always be on the brink of bankruptcy but there's almost no area in her life where she can bear to cut back -- not on the $2,000 dresses, the first class travel, the champagne, the designer everything. As she's buying $300 bottles of wine or paying thousands extra for upgrading her airline ticket, she laments her fate (is she never to have financial security?) And yet when it comes to what she owes others, she is the cheapest woman around...paying the doorman $10 for taking care of her cat for several days (that might have been in the first book) and arguing over having to pay a $5 tip instead of $4. I was afraid Pauline would be too shallow to have my sympathy, but Catherine O'Connell pulls it off brilliantly. She makes Pauline not only likable, but admirable as well. The only thing I have a problem with is the fact that this book just came out, so I'm going to have to wait a while for the next one. Dang!
Dimitri_Fl More than 1 year ago
Ms O'Connell's lastest work is a "Can't Put It Down" mystery novel. The heroine's (Pauline Cook) first person stream of conscientious leads the reader far and wide in solving the mystery. Ms O'Connell is a serious wordsmith, one not to be missed. Well Done indeed!!
joyjoyinhouston More than 1 year ago
I read Well Bred and Dead, the debut, and enjoyed it enough to read Well Read and Dead but this is a much better work. This book delves deeper into the characters, especially Pauline, so you learn why she is the way she is. Highly recommended.
harstan More than 1 year ago
While her penthouse is being renovated, socialite Pauline Cook is on Gianfranco¿s yacht cruising the Mediterranean. It was when the cruise for two ended she realized he was married. It is in Paris she learns that her stock portfolio mostly invested in Enron is worthless. She rushes home to Chicago to find contractor Tag McKay overseeing the renovation. She is attracted to him though he is not in her social class and besides she needs to marry a rich man right away that hopefully she can love while he keeps her in the lifestyle she is accustomed to.

Before she goes husband hunting, Pauline visits her closest friend Whitney Armstrong to pick up her cat Fleur. Whitney¿s husband Jack says his wife is missing and offers Pauline five million dollars to find her; he later raises the reward to ten million. With bills mounting and no income to pay them, though way out of her element Pauline begins a search that leads her to Thailand, from there to Cambodia where Jack¿s factory is located and back to Thailand where she begins getting answers. When she returns to the States, a woman she does not know tries to kill Pauline.

Pauline is a member of the hoi polloi jet setters in which olde money is everything and those without are not worthy of their attention except as servants. However, her inquiry takes her into worlds she never imagined; this changes her. Her husband hunting amidst the Fortune Five Hundred is amusing and ironic when she falls in love with a middle class blue collar working stiff. As Pauline matures from spoiled snobbish socialite to valuing all types of people, she makes Catherine O¿Connell¿s fine thriller WELL READ AND DEAD an engaging read.

Harriet Klausner