Social Crimes: A Novel

Social Crimes: A Novel

by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

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Overview

New York Times bestselling author Jane Stanton Hitchcock's Social Crimes is a riveting thriller of manners, obsession, and revenge that scales the heights and plumbs the depths of the New York social scene.
 
When Jo Slater, one of New York’s premier socialites and a patron of the arts, befriends a French countess, she ignores warnings from friends about the mysterious newcomer. Soon, the young woman knocks Jo off her Park Avenue throne. But using her knowledge of the greatest historical swindle of all time—a true story involving Marie Antoinette—Jo sets out to reclaim her fortune and her place in society.
 
For the plan to work, however, she must resort to the most desperate of measures: murder. Social Crimes is a savvy social satire bursting with money, betrayal, and passion that will thrill readers of sophisticated mysteries.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062259233
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Series: Jo Slater , #1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,187,131
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jane Stanton Hitchcock is the New York Times bestselling author of Mortal Friends, The Witches' Hammer, Social Crimes, and Trick of the Eye, as well as several plays. She lives with her husband, syndicated foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland, in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

Social Crimes


By Jane Stanton Hitchcock

Warner Books

Copyright © 2003 Jane Stanton Hitchcock
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-61672-9


Chapter One

MURDER was never my goal in life. I'm a very sentimental person at heart. I cry in old movies. I love animals and children. I'm a pushover for a beggar in the street. So if anyone had told me five years ago that I could have willfully and with malice aforethought killed a fellow human being, I would have said they were crazy. But life has surprises in store for all of us, not the least of which is the gradual discovery of who we really are and what we are capable of. However, allow me to dwell for a moment on the last evening of what I think of as my innocence.

It was a perfect Southampton night, warm, clear, starlit, with a gentle breeze blowing in from the ocean. I was standing at the head of a small reception line, greeting guests at a birthday party being held in my honor. I can see my friends and acquaintances now in my mind's eye, filing past me, bristling with jewels, faces aglow with the hollow confidence that only money can bring.

I was deep in the world oxymoronically known as "New York Society," where the fish are bigger and the water is colder, or the fish are colder and the water is bigger, depending on your point of view. It was a world I felt entirely at home in. I was Mrs. Lucius Slater-Jo, to my friends-wife of one of the richest and most prominent businessmen in New York.

People described me then as a "socialite," a label I loathe. It cast me in a lurid and ridiculous light, implying a life of privileged frivolity where everyone flits around from one party to the next wearing calculated clothes and expensive smiles. I would have preferred "social leader," since distractions like the gala that night were only part of a more substantial milieu in which I played a significant role: a world of money and power in general, and, more specifically, the governance of the great institutions of New York.

I understood better than anyone that Dick Bromire, my host, was slightly using me to polish up his tarnishing reputation. A gregarious real estate magnate and a figure of note in the cozy older social circles of New York, Dick was facing indictment for income tax evasion-a charge he vehemently denied.

Standing in line next to Dick, I watched him out of the corner of my eye. A beefy man of sixty-five with a moon face and a jaunty manner, he was clad in a white dinner jacket, greeting the arriving guests with a handshake and a slightly automatic grin.

"Good to see ya, good to see ya, thanks for coming, thanks for coming," he said over and over without pausing to chitchat. Being at the center of the scandal du jour, he may have been afraid of inviting any probing comments.

His gruffness was, as usual, softened by the charm of Trish, his much younger wife, a sporty blonde from Florida who looked as if she had a mean backhand but whose real idea of an athletic afternoon was cleaning out her closets. She stood next to her husband, showing off her bare, well-toned midriff in a striking outfit of gold lam? harem pants and a short matching top. Her heavy emerald and diamond earrings, custom-made by Raj, a reclusive Indian jeweler whose unmarked shop in Paris was Mecca for the gem-loving rich, reminded me of military decorations from some defunct Mittel-european monarchy.

My husband, Lucius, and I had known the Bromires for years. Lucius and Dick were old golfing buddies. Lucius had helped Dick get into the National years ago. Trish was a member of my summer reading group-an extension of the late Clara Wilman's New York reading group-the "Billionaire Reading Group," as it was facetiously referred to by envious outsiders because all the women in it had rich husbands and because between our discussions of Proust, Trollope, and Flaubert, the stock tips were reputed to fly faster than a covey of quail.

The Bromires had always been extremely kind to us, but it was when Lucius had his heart attack three months prior to my birthday party that night that they really came through. Dick put his helicopter at our disposal to transport Lucius from Southampton to New York. Dick and Trish had both kept me company-along with my best friends Betty Waterman and June Kahn-in the depressing fluorescent hallways of New York Hospital during my long vigil when I thought Lucius might die.

"I may not remember, but I never forget" is my motto, and I felt very badly for Dick now that he was the target of a criminal investigation. I was letting him celebrate me (even though several of my friends had warned me to "steer clear," as they put it) because I liked him, pure and simple.

Since I have no children of my own, my friends are like my family. I stick by them even when it's inconvenient to do so. This is something I learned as a girl growing up in Oklahoma. "United we stand, divided we're screwed," is what my father always said. We may have been unsophisticated back there in the panhandle, but God knows we were loyal.

Trish Bromire visibly preened at the appearance of Miranda Somers, whose presence at a party signified to our little set that we were in the right place. Miranda Somers, a canny beauty of indeterminate age, is society's cheerleader. She writes a column for Nous magazine under the pen name "Daisy." Nous is society's scrapbook, dedicated to fashion, celebrity, and making social life appear fun, even on those frequent occasions when it's more tedious than jury duty. Miranda sprinkles stardust plus a soup? on of satire on the events she covers.

She was on the arm of Ethan Monk, a curator at the Municipal Museum, another one of my closest friends. The Monk, as he is referred to in the art world, is a blond, bespectacled, boyish-looking man whose wholesome midwestern looks are complemented by an appealing affability. Ethan is knowledgeable without being pedantic. He knows more about eighteenth-century French furniture than anyone in America, and he helped me shape the collection Lucius and I donated to the museum. I adore Ethan for many reasons, not the least of which is that he's never averse to a light spot of gossip here and there-though he refuses to make it the carrion feast it is for many of our friends.

Trish fawned a little too hard over Miranda and Ethan, neither of whom have much patience for obvious flattery. They soon moved on to me. Miranda air-kissed me in her famous Miranda way so neither party's hair or makeup is ever spoiled. "Honey, you're a real trouper," she said. Next I saw my darling June Kahn waltzing toward me, looking like a middle-aged Sugar Plum Fairy. June's quest to appear ever youthful had taken a macabre turn in the form of a pink organza dress more suited to a third grader in a ballet recital than a petite, dark-haired woman of fifty. As she hugged me, she said, "You look fabulous. Isn't the tent divine? Just like a big glowing onion. Who's here? Who's coming? Oh, my tootsies ache already!"

June was at concert pitch that night, strung taut with the excitement of the party, her eyes stealthily on the move like a pair of heat-seeking missiles in pursuit of celebrities. Suddenly hitting a target-a well-known newswoman who was also a prominent New York hostess- they brightened and she was off. I found June's weakness for famous people endearing. She reminded me of a little girl in a poodle skirt straining to get her autograph book signed by an oblivious star.

Trailing behind his wife in line was Charlie Kahn, June's husband, a slim, aristocratic-looking, silver-haired man of sixty. He gave me a thin smile and a nervous squeeze of my right hand, which was the way he always greeted June's friends. Charlie reminded me of a timid dog who was wary of being petted.

"So where's the big man? Still alive, I trust?" he said.

"Alive and well, Charlie, dear," I replied. "Just not up to standing in the receiving line."

"It's like I always say: You can't take it with you, but if you have enough of it, you don't go!" he said, referring to Lucius's recent brush with death.

He laughed. I didn't.

Next to come through the line was Betty Waterman.

She leaned in and whispered, "You can take the girl out of the harem but you can't take the harem out of the girl, what?" eyeing Trish Bromire's Arabian Nights getup. I thought this remark a bit pot and kettle-ish given her own choice of outfits. Betty, a robust redhead, was a standout that night in a banana yellow caftan heavily embroidered with a gold and blue bib.

"This outfit weighs a ton," she said, attempting to adjust the shoulders with both hands. "Gil says it makes me look like Tutankhamen."

Gil, her husband, was right on the mark. I helped her align the costume but it still looked funereal.

I knew the Watermans had some sort of French countess staying with them and that Betty had asked Trish Bromire if she could bring her to the party at the last minute. Dear Trish, who had privately complained to me that very afternoon about the inconvenience of having to rearrange the seating, was secretly pleased to accommodate a titled lady.

"So where's the Countess?"

"With Gil," Betty said. "We took separate cars because I want to leave early. I have a tennis game at the crack." She spread her arms out in a gesture of welcome and cried, "Hello, rat fuck!" as she walked toward the crowd. The reception line dispersed. I strolled into the tent to check on Lucius. He was easy to spot because he was the only man in a black tuxedo. The invitation had specifically said "white dinner jackets" for the men, "festive dress" for the women. But Lucius refused to wear white, proclaiming, "White is for waiters and corpses." Lucius always did as he pleased. I admired that about him. He was not as mindful of other people's opinions as I was.

I found my husband seated on one of ten small gold ballroom chairs at a table near the dance floor. He smiled and chatted as a steady stream of friends dropped by to pay him court and say hello. As I neared, I overheard a few awkward pleasantries concomitant upon the return of a man who had recently been snatched from the jaws of death: "Wonderful to see you in such good shape, fella!" "You look great, guy!" "I better watch myself on the golf course, kiddo, now that you're all recovered!"

All lies.

The truth is Lucius looked like hell, a shadow of his former robust self. The athletic and elegant older man I had married, who had kept his youthful looks and boyish vitality well beyond the normal span, was now frail and wan. Having lost more than thirty pounds, he looked like a scarecrow. His shoulders, elbows, and knee joints jutted out like hangers under the black fabric of his now very loose-fitting tuxedo. His face was gaunt and gray, the keen shine of his navy blue eyes dimmed by bouts of pain and fear. Lucius's brush with the Reaper had failed to humble him in any significant way, however. He still had the slightly sour, imperious air of a deposed monarch.

"Where the hell have you been?" he said. "In the receiving line." "All this time? Jesus."

Like many rich men, Lucius wanted a wife who constantly catered to him in a variety of ways: part nanny, part sexpot, part ornament. It was often a daunting task. Ignoring his irritated tone, I bent down and gave him a peck on the cheek.

"How are you holding up, my darling? Seeing lots of pals?"

"All the usual suspects. If you want to know the truth, I'm ready to go home." "So am I. But we can't."

I noticed he was drinking champagne and I plucked the flute from his hand.

"Sweetheart, you know what the doctors said." The doctors had warned us: "No sex and no booze," for the time being.

"I'll sit with you," I said, pulling up a chair close beside him. My first priority was always Lucius. The minute I acquiesced to him, he softened his tone. "No, Jo. You go circulate. It's your night. Enjoy it."

The fact is I didn't care much for big parties and I would have much preferred to sit and talk with my husband.

As the guest of honor, however, I knew I had an obligation to my host and hostess.

"This too shall pass, my darling," I said.

I gave Lucius a knowing wink, strapped on my social toe shoes, and danced off into the crowd.

The candlelit tent was a sea of round dining tables dominated by tall glass vases overflowing with flowers and ribbons. An orchestra played the butter-smooth melodies of the High Debutante era. The lucite dance floor, embedded with seashells, was lit from beneath and for some unfathomable reason it seemed to float above the wooden floor like a futuristic magic carpet. It was the only modern touch in view. Pretty as it was, the party felt somehow lumbering and out of date, like a majestic old galleon. It had a heavy, Old Economy feel to it. And that's what I liked about it. It was mercifully familiar, anchored in a time that seemed now almost as remote as its spiritual forebear, the Gilded Age.

People had flown in from all over the world just for this occasion. Many of them weren't even staying the night. Their private planes and chauffeured cars were standing by waiting to take them back to wherever they came from as soon as the evening was over, or before if they were bored. Bobbing up and down among the crowd, I saw almost everyone I'd ever known. In some ways, it felt like drowning-or what drowning is reputed to feel like-in that my entire life was flashing before me.

The amis mondains were out in full force. I should mention here that I divided my circle of acquaintances into two basic groups: real friends and amis mondains. My real friends were the people I genuinely liked. Amis mondains-"worldly friends"-were the people I cultivated strictly for the sake of social life, not because I especially liked them or because they especially liked me, but because we were all players in the same game. Though we all competed with one another nonstop, it still made us feel secure to hang out together. Money and, most particularly, the way in which we liked to spend it-in pursuit of the unique, the rarefied, and the extraordinary in art, in luxury, and in life-was the connective tissue that bound us all together. We smiled and laughed and gossiped among ourselves at the various festivities we all went to, but-and in New York, nothing counts until the but-we rarely missed a chance to "dish" one another in private.

Friendly and charming as always, the amis mondains treated Dick and Trish Bromire as if nothing were amiss. Quite the contrary, they all gave Dick assurances of their support. Yet I knew that even as they ate his hors d'oeuvres and drank his champagne, they were speculating on the particulars of his impending downfall. I overheard snippets of conversation like, "Do you think he'll be indicted?" ... "Did you see that ghastly article on him in the Wall Street Journal?" ... "They say the Feds are really after him," and so on and so on. Some people were downright nasty about Dick, but their alibi for not missing this big, splashy party, of course, was that they had all come, not for him, but for me.

Dick was wounded game, in danger of losing his reputation and, worse-far worse-his entire fortune. I hated it that he was being stalked by gossipmongers in his very own house, but such is the way of social life in New York: Live by money, die by money.

I played my part, smiling and greeting everyone graciously, pretending to be oblivious to the provocative whispers circulating about our dear host. Many people told me how well I looked that evening. They may have just been being polite, of course, but I was pleased nonetheless. For the past few months I'd been under a great strain and, as everyone knows, stress always takes a toll on one's looks. Lucius was not an easy patient, to say the least. Organizing round-the-clock nurses was difficult enough. But when Lucius didn't like a particular nurse, he ordered her out of the house on the spot, which forced me to either find a replacement on a minute's notice or else sit with him for eight hours at a stretch myself. We managed to get through the worst of it. Lucius was feeling much better. Caspar, our chauffeur, had become his regular attendant. I was grateful Lucius was recovering, but I was still tired and anxious about his health, so it was nice to hear I didn't show it.

If I had to describe myself then, I should have said that I was an average height, attractive woman of a certain age, well preserved by my own dedication to discipline and enough money to take advantage of the latest beauty developments. I had a full, round face, a fair, even complexion, and a sprightly walk that gave me the air of a younger woman. Favoring a neat, stylish appearance over a softer, more flattering one, I wore my straight blond hair short, sculpted over my head like a helmet. My best feature, so everyone told me, was my inquisitive, tealcolored eyes. Though I was showing some signs of aging-a few wrinkles here and there, a loosening of the skin around the neck and jowls-I'd not yet dared a facelift, fearing the startled alien look cosmetic surgery had thrust on several of my friends. I always chose plain but well-cut clothes. I was not a beauty, by any means, but there were days when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, "Well, it could be worse." If my mannerisms were a bit studied at large gatherings, it was because I've always felt self-conscious in crowds.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Social Crimes by Jane Stanton Hitchcock Copyright © 2003 by Jane Stanton Hitchcock.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Marie Brenner

Thrums with wicked wit and an insider’s view of court life in the Manhattan and Southampton of the twenty-first century. Hitchcock has seen it and lived it and shares all. She has a keen eye and a perfect ear.

Christopher Buckley

Foie gras, champagne, a famous pearl necklace, and socialites at each other’s throats. What more could you ask for? Great fun.

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