As Another Gorgeous East Hampton season climaxes, a remarkable woman, admired by the millions who know her only through television and her books and cordially despised by some of those closest to her is found dead on the beach with a stake of privet hedge driven brutally through her heart. Who killed lifestyle guru Hannah Cutting and why? With the rich and famous of the lovely resort village among the suspects, foreign correspondent Beecher Stowe, back home at his family home on Further Lane, traces Hannah's roots while digging for clues. Competing with Stowe is a young book editor dispatched to the scene by Harry Evans of Random House to find and retrieve the tell-all manuscript on which Hannah was working when she died. This is Alix Dunraven, a member in London of Princess Di's set of "Sloane Rangers." Now Stowe and Lady Alix make for an unexpectedly sassy and stylish team as they lead an elegant but deadly romp through the Hamptons, from redneck bars to the Maidstone Country Club, from rich men's estates to the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, from surfer hangouts to the tennis courts, as all the tensions and frictions of America's famous summer playground play themselves out: Old Money vs. New, tree-huggers vs. land developers, Hollywood arrivistes vs. Establishment WASPs. As Alix and Beecher close in on why Hannah died, a great September hurricane comes boiling up the East Coast toward East Hampton's golden beaches and dune-top mansions.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Series:||Beecher Stowe and Lady Alex Dunraven Novels Series , #1|
|Product dimensions:||6.52(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.95(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Here, if anywhere in America,
you could still find the sweet life...
I'd been away from East Hampton, working in Europe and North Africa as a correspondent, and now I was back in a wonderful place where I'd grown up and found it even more desirable than I remembered, lovelier, more lush and sensual, richer if that was possible. More glitz as well, you had to admit, and that discomfitted the local gentry, who saw celebrity and its attendant publicity as a cross that decent Protestants were expected to bear. No matter. Here, if anywhere in America, it seemed you could still find the sweet life. A little money was required, of course. If only you had a little money, New Money or Old; in East Hampton anything was possible ...
A pretty nice place.
Just east of our house, where Further Lane meets Spaeth Lane, there used to be an actual landing strip that Mr. Roberts put in, so that the small planes of that era belonging to the rich, to men with flair and imagination, could land and deposit their passengers within, quite literally, a few hundred yards' stroll of their own homes. You would have had to offer sedan chairs to provide greater ease and consideration. From my own bedroom at night when birdsong and the whir of insects and most things had stilled, you could hear the ocean, the surf slamming down, in a metronomic bang! bang! bang! over and over. If that didn't help you sleep, what would? And toward dawn, you might hear the far-off wailing whistle of the night freight at the grade crossings. That was nice, too, suggesting the lonely sounds Americans used to hear in lonely places. And asmany houses had gone up here, how much development, the vast monies spent, early mornings along Further Lane you might still see, through the kitchen window, a deer browsing on the lower boughs of our fruit trees or a young red fox trotting purposefully along the road or a covey of pheasants scuttling to safety in the hedge or a rabbit rousing itself for a new day's frolic. Pretty nice as well to be back amid such memories in a familiar and congenial place, where generations of my family lived and where I had spent pleasant chunks of my own youth.
On my return, even the women seemed more gorgeous than I remembered.
You could see them, too, from the house, passing on Further Lane, the long-legged flat-bellied young women and girls who belonged to the rich men. Or who, arguably more erotic and exciting, were themselves rich. You couldn't really tell whose the wealth was; no Dun & Bradstreet reports being issued on the matter. Now that I was back and writing, I took occasional breaks from the laptop to stand lazily smoking in the sunshine of my father's lawn, and felt the familiar tug when they ran and biked and Rollerbladed by, or sped past in cars specifically designed to show off the exquisite aerodynamics of freshly washed hair, riding the slipstream in a summer's sun. Even their cars were right: old Bentleys and new Ferraris, classic Jags and the odd Aston-Martin, Land Rovers and Lamborghinis, tiny Porsches and histrionically stretched limos.
It was hard to tell along Further Lane which were more beautiful, which sleeker and more expensive: the cars or the women.
Further Lane is only two miles long but offers bonus glimpses of the Atlantic as it ambles parallel to the ocean, across rich men's lawns and working cornfields and slim groves. Green farms, blue waters, and crashing surf; you might well be in Mayo or elsewhere on the west coast of Ireland. These were the pastures of what geologists call the "Eastern Plain" of the village. A local historian described Further Lane as "large estates ... grand country houses with extensive gardens on parcels of five to ten acres and more," and concluded, glumly I thought, "The era of prosperity in America which made these estates possible ended in the 1930s."
Oh, but they were splendid, those estates, those gardens, those country houses, every bit as splendid as the hard-bodied women and girls who pranced last summer on Further Lane before the eyes of a young man who was roughly handled by the mullahs in far-off Algiers and, even more painful, bruised by a distant, careless London beauty. How could I resist being drawn to such women, smoothly cool yet erotically beckoning, all the while (and realistically) suspecting they were unattainable.
The most beautiful Main Street
in America ...
If you follow Liz Smith and People magazine or watch Entertainment Tonight on the tube and have a subscription to Vanity Fair, you may get the impression East Hampton is a Hollywood production, founded quite recently by Steven Spielberg, Demi Moore, and the Baldwin brothers. Those of us who live here know it wasn't motion picture people who first settled East Hampton but dry, cranky old Puritans out of Maidstone, England, wandering down via Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640; the first movie stars not to arrive until slightly afterwards.
In 1921 Rudolph Valentino made The Sheik along the beach between East Hampton and Montauk at Napeague, our local dunes impersonating the Sahara, the tents and horses imported on the Long Island Railroad. Wally Reid, the silent film actor so admired by Scott Fitzgerald for his Arrow shirt-advertisement good looks, owned that big ivied house with its mullioned windows on Further Lane adjacent to the golf course, just west of Lasata, which was "Black Jack" Bouvier's place where Jackie and Lee grew up. Mary Pickford, briefly, had a place. So did Ring Lardner and one of the Barrymores. In the postwar summer of 1946, Clark Gable visited East Hampton, played a couple of rounds of golf at the Maidstone Club, and lunched there on the clubhouse patio, thrilling female members. Frederic March came out and so did Kate Hepburn and Spence-ah. She played ferocious tennis while his tastes ran sedately to croquet and old-fashioneds. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe consummated their marriage here, one supposed passionately, honeymooning in a borrowed Amagansett cottage. More recently, Faye Dunaway took a place on Egypt Lane but sold it back when the Village wouldn't let her put in a pool that close to the wetlands. Until they split Dina Merrill and Cliff Robertson lived in a beach house set atop the dunes just off Highway Behind the Pond. She's still there. Designer John Weitz and his wife, Susan (she starred with Monty Clift in Freud), own a hilltop red barn of a place. Roy Scheider's here. Alan Alda. Alan Pakula who made To Kill A Mockingbird and Klute lives on Georgica Pond. Woody Allen was supposed to be building or buying a place. Never did, I don't believe. Randy Quaid. Kathleen Turner. Anna and Rupert Murdoch, before he purchased 20th Century-Fox, rented a beachfront place on Mrs. Tyson's Further Lane compound, and made an offer to buy but the old lady wasn't selling. Or else we would have had another Hollywood tycoon out here. When we already had Spielberg and Geffen and, of course, Mickey and Mikey: Mickey being Mr. Schulhof, who had been head of Sony USA and therefore the boss of Michael Jackson, among others; and Mikey being Mr. Fuchs, who headed HBO and did other clever things for Time Warner.
Diana Ross almost lived here; but you knew that. Nearly became a member of the Maidstone Club as well, which for some time now had Catholics and Jews, but not yet an African-American. There was considerable stir when Ms. Ross married her Norwegian shipbuilding magnate, who'd long been a member of the Maidstone, though rarely dropping by. And now, as his wife, Diana Ross would also be a member in good standing. Except that, for reasons of his own that may have had to do more with sailing than with snobbery, the Norwegian decided to drop his membership and concentrate his loyalties instead on a yacht club in Greenwich, Connecticut.
The Maidstone would have gathered Diana Ross to its bosom and been the better for it, I believe. But it was not to be. And off she went to Connecticut and an entirely different cast of snobs.
But hers was a somewhat unique situation. What it came down to was that film people liked the place and took to the Hamptons almost from the start. Trouble was, until the jetliner, planes from the coast were too slow and lacked range. By now, of course, all that's been fixed. Not only has the jet come along but the fast chopper, landing at small local airports and on spacious private lawns, and seaplanes, some of them quite old and classic, others new wave and high tech, that splash down on our myriad bays and coves and even the larger ponds. So that, to an extent that amuses or perplexes or infuriates local people, East Hampton is referred to as "Malibu East." Or rather more elegantly by the newly arrived essayist Peter Mayle, as "Hollywood sur mer."
Old Money East Hampton chose to pretend the cinema had not yet caught on and that nothing at all had changed. Old Money out here is like that. But even in East Hampton things had changed and it was foolish to deny it. Take last summer.
With the great Barbra Streisand, Demi and her fashionable pal Donna Karan, Patricia Duff Perelman (was she about to drop the Perelman?), New Money Hannah Cutting and her decidedly Old Money rival Pam Phythian, Kim Basinger, and one-woman conglomerate Martha Stewart all in residence simultaneously for the summer, it seemed only a matter of time before, having achieved critical mass, East Hampton went up in some sort of spontaneous combustion.
The only surprise, with so many dazzling and impossibly high-powered egos enjoying "the season" in the same little old resort village, was that until the very end, nothing happened.
Well, almost nothing.
In mid-August a great white whale came ashore dead, gashed and bloody, a very rare thing here, leading those who believed in omens and portents to ponder and cluck about what it meant, if anything. The whale floated in after a collision at sea with the whirling steel screws of a big ship and already dead, but still bleeding, drew vast schools of feeding sharks that tracked its reeking course all the way in, until it grounded foully ashore on our famous Old Beach, where the sharks, large and small, slid wriggling on their bellies literally up onto the wet sand to hit again at the huge whale and tear away another chunk of flesh, before wriggling back again into the bloody water. That was something to see, eight-foot sharks up and feeding, on the same sand where pretty girls sunned and your kids built castles. A bloody whale in the shallows, with hungry sharks to boot, pulled crowds of the curious from all along the East Hampton shore, especially delighting little boys who darted excitedly this way and that, much too near the sharks for their nervous, scolding mothers. But as the novelty of a beached whale wore off, its stench became more powerful in the heat, and the whale eventually drove us all away, even the camera crews and small boys, until, at last, the Coast Guard threw a cable on the carcass and towed it out to sea. That, finally, emptied the beach.
Except for gloomy people with long, Old Testament faces who stood to windward of the bloody, stinking sand, and prophesied unprecedented and awful things.
Some of which would come about. Though not quite yet.
Instead, we had a season of relative peace and tranquility. The annual running of the au pair girls on the fairways of the Maidstone Club produced the usual number of adulterous liaisons between married members and the summer's crop of nymphets; but only a handful of broken marriages. Doc Whitmore the tree surgeon got back onto his rickety old bike following a hip replacement. Half-a-dozen chic new boutiques opened on Memorial Day, went bust, and were shuttered by September. A resurgence of the "brown tide" suggested the October scalloping wouldn't be much. Dunemere Real Estate huffily denied they were the agents for grunge singer Courtney Love, rumored to be buying a place. Two neighbors on Huntting Lane, one Old Money, his woman neighbor indisputably New, feuded over her dogs and he was suspected of shooting at them with a BB gun. Although, with the privet hedge masking his line of fire, little damage was done; another recommendation for growing a good privet. Deer ticks swarmed once more. Which was why, they said, Billy Joel bred and raised guinea hens at his spread on Further Lane, to keep down the ticks. Guinea hens like a nice tick. There were few unexpected personal bankruptcies and not a single front-page suicide. A wealthy husband, known locally and disparagingly by various epithets, suspicious his celebrity third wife was gathering evidence of abuse, verbal or otherwise, met her private jet with bodyguards and had her "patted down" to determine whether she might be wearing "a wire."
Decent people tut-tutted such yarns as tabloid inventions and piously hoped the couple might work out their differences. Even the season's resident charlatan, a New Age guru, who described himself, with deadpan solemnity, as "The Swami," maintained a discreetly low profile. Although he, at least, had amusement value.
Imported, lavishly housed, fed, and watered at the considerable expense of rich, foolish women who got their names in the columns simply for going to lunch, the Swami affected caftans, working his magic largely in private, levitating and chanting, going into trances, prescribing enemas and a diet of wheat germ, all the while smelling up a lovely, old, borrowed house with incense. Thoughtfully, he promoted his scams, if that was what they were, behind thick and sheltering privet hedges rather than on village streets, where he might frighten leashed dogs or roller-skating children.
"Conspicuous privacy is a big deal in the Hamptons." Or so wrote someone terribly decorative and designery in a summer's issue of the New York Times. And he was right. We're as subject to the usual seasonal crazes as the next place. An obsessive toting of bottles of Evian water, for one. To stroll the three hundred yards from Hither Lane to Middle Lane, people feel it essential to stock up on designer water as if they were setting out to cross Arabia's Empty Quarter with T. E. Lawrence. But otherwise, we're pretty sensible folk, sheltered and insulated from such foolishness by all that boxwood and privet hedge out here, why we seem so happily screened-off as well from the cruel, more substantive realities that plague less fortunate places.
But even in East Hampton, the harsh world occasionally intrudes.
In mid-August, the whale washed up. A few days later, Leo Brass, a brawny local Bayman who'd somehow gotten himself educated (Penn State and then grad school at MIT!), was arrested for igniting a minor riot over wetlands protection (Leo personally bulldozed a police barricade erected to keep Baymen from blowing up a dock constructed in Accabonac Harbor by Krantz, the wine baron). East Hampton was unaccustomed to such loud posturing and some locals were offended, literally, by Leo's "brass." Nor had MIT been an enormous success for Leo. At Penn State he'd been welcomed, nurtured, lionized as a track and field star who narrowly missed making our Olympic team in the decathlon (the javelin his best event). While at MIT, lost amid the Cambridge crowd, he drank too much and in a Harvard Square bar one night punched out a Ph.D. candidate over an arcane point of ecology, and ended by being first busted and, eventually, sent down by the institute.
No one, except possibly the unhappy Ph.D. candidate, questioned Leo's instinctive feel for country, for earth and water, the fragility of wetlands. There was no denying his expertise no matter how erratic and surly he could turn. Leo didn't like me very much but what did that matter? When in the mood, Leo was fun but there was a nervy edge to him and he could go mean in an instant; despite his schooling, he enjoyed playing the crude rustic. Nevertheless, he was on the side of the Gods ecologically and claimed to know more, and perhaps did, than anyone else out here about the vulnerable nature of our sprawling, boggy wetlands. Contemptuous of critics, whom he dismissed as effete "tree huggers," and hostile to the New Money men putting his precious wetlands at risk, Leo was not at all bashful when it came to taking contributions of their "conscience money" and bedding their women; both activities he characterized smugly as "screwing the rich."To his adherents, Leo just might be, in many ways, "the new man" people were waiting for.
People who understood such things stroked their chins and predicted the demagogue Brass might have quite a future out here, Huey Long on a Caterpillar tractor.
And finally, as if Brass and his militant Baymen had mischievously whistled it up, a mostly tranquil summer would end, melodramatically, with a storm right out of Lear, a great hurricane that came at us, deadly, destructive, unforgiving, boiling, raging and writhing out of Africa, through the Antilles and then the Caribbean, bouncing off Florida and bounding up the coast past Hatteras to target East Hampton, tearing at our barrier sandbars, lashing our dunes, ripping into our shores, splintering our great elms, swamping our roads.
That was the threat. But would the tempest actually get here or veer off out to sea? No one yet knew.
By mid-September in a village whose Main Street had been labeled by the National Geographic as the "most beautiful in America," with its miles of gorgeous ocean beach and scores of bays and ponds and inlets and snug harbors, its pine barrens and green fairways and golden sand, no longer did things seem quite so comfortable and predictible. Instead, everything ... and even East Hampton itself ... seemed as vulnerable as anyplace else to change, and not always for the better.
As, in a macabre sort of entr'acte, on the beach just east of the Maidstone Club, there washed up one dawn a famous woman's naked, skewered body.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hilarious look at the rich and famous. Mr. Brady is so descriptive in his prose that its like watching a t.v. show in your imagination. It makes one want to pack up and drive to the Hamptons in the hopes of running into some of the colorful characters. A great read. Have read all three of his novels. Keep them coming.