New York Times bestseller: A New Year’s Eve suicide in a Newport mansion could be hiding a sinister family conspiracy.
Was it fear of scandal, threat of disgrace, or loss of his job that drove Rhode Island newspaper magnate Adam Keene to take his own life? His daughter, Christy, refuses to accept her father’s death as a suicide. When she returns to her mother-in-law Theodora’s stately Newport mansion, Christy is determined to find out who killed her father—and why.
But once behind the walls of Spindrift, Christy finds that the sprawling estate is more than just a tomb of tragic memories and closely guarded secrets. Christy’s husband and son are slowly falling under the influence of the ruthless and domineering Theo. For Christy, the matriarch’s endgame is as unknowable as it is terrifying. Now, as Christy searches for the truth of the past in the dark shadows of Spindrift, she will become trapped in a web of lies only another murder could conceal.
A recipient of the Agatha Award for Lifetime Achievement, Phyllis A. Whitney is the Edgar Award–winning “queen of the American gothics” (The New York Times).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Phyllis A. Whitney including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Read an Excerpt
While I was in the hospital I kept drifting in and out of the world around me. It was hard to focus on what was real and what imaginary. Joel was real some of the time and I know that at first he came every evening to see me, and sometimes, when he could leave those writers and manuscripts that occupied so much of his life, he came in the daytime as well. Then his mother convinced him that he was upsetting me, and he came less often. It began to seem as though he were a stranger and not at all the husband I had been so much in love with.
Theo came too. Theodora Moreland, Joel's mother, but she always spelled nightmare, whether she merely stood beside my bed as a small, indomitable figure, waiting implacably, or sat across the room staring at me out of those intense green eyes. The look of her elegantly upswept, expensively perpetuated red hair began to haunt my dreams. Perhaps if I hadn't been my father's daughter I might have died under the balefulness of that watch she kept.
Once I had persuaded a nurse to bring me a mirror, so I knew what she saw — a face too thin since my illness, too delicate to possess the strength to stand up to her. Brown eyes grown too big and cropped brown hair, with the curls damp against my forehead. Her look put me down as weak and without force.
Yet even then I'd had more strength than she guessed. Adam Keene was my father, and he had brought me up to be a fighter, as he was. My mother had died when I was three and I didn't remember her at all, so it was my father who continued to dominate my horizon. Only lately, I hadn't been able to fight.
Perhaps of all my world at that time he was the figure most real to me, most alive — even though now he too was dead. Again and again I could hear his warning voice in my ear: "Stand up to her, Christy. A fight is the only thing she understands. If you give in she'll destroy you. Christy, hon, watch out for yourself and watch out for Peter if you want to keep your son."
My father had never wanted me to marry Joel Moreland. He had worked with the Morelands most of his life — first with the powerful Hal Moreland, who was already a legend in the field of newspaper publishing, and then with his widow, Theo. Joel was the son of their later years, and he was like neither of them. It was inevitable that my father believed him weak and made of poor stuff because the newspaper world was too rough for him. Joel had taken an editorship at Moreland Press, and while the books he published weren't always a monetary success — which had disturbed his hardheaded father — Theo protected him in this at least and saw that he went his own way. Joel's was a dreamer's world — an escape from the brutal reality of the Morelands, and in the beginning I had relished my belief that he was his own man.
I'd had a job with the Moreland Empire too, thanks to my father. Nepotism, perhaps, as much as had been Joel's hiring, but I had worked hard at my column to keep it lively and newsworthy, and everyone said I had a flair. I had begun to be syndicated in a number of areas around the country and I was already receiving bushels of mail by the time Theo fired me. Dad had been furious, though Joel had rather shrugged it off: "Do you mind all that much, Christy? You know Theo likes change, variety. She thinks you've gone a bit stale. And this will give you all the more time with Peter."
In the hospital I would not think of Peter. Even in my fantasy world I could not think of Peter. I dared not until I was stronger or I knew I'd never recover. Theo had him — and I couldn't leave him in her destructive hands. But first I had to be strong enough to stand against her.
A nervous breakdown, they said, using the kind, old fashioned term. A natural enough result following my father's tragic death, they assured me. After the hospital they put me in a "rest home"— very private and expensive and quiet, where I had sympathetic care and a great deal of covert watching. Dr. Dorfman was all consideration and he listened to me endlessly. When I said, "My father didn't die a suicide. He was murdered," Dr. Dorfman would ask me patiently why I thought this, and I would tell him again and again that I knew my father. He had loved life and believed in it. Under no circumstances would he have profaned it by not trying to live it to the hilt, no matter what happened. Dr. Dorfman reminded me gently that the threat of disgrace, the fear of open scandal, the loss of the job he had worked at and loved all his life could drive any man to desperate escape. "Not my father," I said. Dr. Dorfman smiled with compassion and went away, leaving me to stare about my empty sitting room, leaving me to stare at the plaque on the wall that read, "GIFT OF THE MORELAND FOUNDATION." The very hospital I was in had been a gift of the Moreland Empire. There was no escaping it.
I didn't believe in a scandal concerning my father, didn't believe that Adam Keene had been involved with a crime syndicate, or stooped to deal with those miserable little men who brought the accusations against him. While Hal Moreland had been known more than once to color the news to fit his own beliefs and influence the thinking of millions, my father, though he had always responded to the excitement of a good story, had also loved the truth. He thought a good story was the real story. In the beginning of what had been a partnership, his had been the imagination, the gifted creation of ideas, Hal Moreland's, the business head and the money. After their first paper, The Leader, took hold and jumped its circulation into the millions, rivaling the World and Journal-American, Hal had assumed command, though my father remained managing editor. The trouble with Adam Keene was that he cared about an honest paper, he cared about doing the job well. Power for itself meant nothing to him. He had his weaknesses, but greed for power was not among them. On the other hand, power meant everything to Hal Moreland, as it did now to his widow, Theodora. Even in her early seventies she had the will and dynamic drive of a much younger woman.
She stood by my bed and I knew she wanted me to die. She had always disliked me because I was Adam Keene's daughter. Once, when they were all young, rumor had it that Adam had been the man Theo wanted to marry. But, already in love with my gentle mother, he had not returned her demanding affection. He had never told me much about this, but I gathered that Theo would never forgive the rejection, even though Hal Moreland was far more suited to her as a husband and they'd had an obviously successful marriage. On the other hand, Hal had been a big man in his way and he had the self-confidence to shrug off Theo's early infatuation with his partner.
With my father gone, I was all that was left to stand between Theo and the grandson she coveted so possessively. She had once lost her son to me, but now she was getting him back, and she intended to keep her grandson, whom she spoiled on every occasion, and whom she encouraged in unruly ways. She claimed that Peter looked like his grandfather Hal, and that he must grow up to be like him. A resemblance to that old pirate was the last thing I wanted. I wouldn't have him damaged like that. So I steeled myself against her — and against Joel, if he was on her side. I wasn't going to die. I had been ill with grief and shock, I had collapsed, but I didn't believe in this sickness of the mind they were insisting upon in lieu of my death. There were times when I knew with all clarity and certainty that it was the drugs they fed me, the tranquilizers and sleeping pills, that clouded my mind and brought this confusion between the real and the unreal. Somehow I had to escape from this smothering haze and recover what was left of me. For two reasons — to wrest Peter from his grandmother's influence and to uncover the truth about my father's death.
During all these months of illness they would not bring Peter to see me. Let him remember me the way I was, they told me. It would frighten him to see me now: As soon as you are yourself again ... But the clear inference was that the Christy I had been — Christy Keene, Christy Moreland — was gone for good.
Oddly enough, it was Joel who saved me, which was not an action typical of him. He was not given to taking hold in a crisis, but this time he did. It had been a particularly bad day for me. I had been ranting furiously about something unreal — completely out of my head, yet at times pleading piteously to be released from a torment that was not entirely imaginary.
"All right," Joel said, "you're coming home." For once he stood up to his mother, to Dr. Dorfman, to the lot of them. Waiting fearfully for my collapse, the nurses ceased the injections, the feeding of pills. My nerves were rocky, it was true, my sleep interrupted by wakeful periods at night, but in a week or so the fantasies left me and my head was clear. Joel took his shaky wife home.
Unfortunately, after all these months of Theo's torment and Joel's support of her, our marriage had gone flat. All feeling for Joel had died in me. I could no longer believe that he had done what he thought was good for me. He was too much his mother's son and I seemed to be seeing him clearly for the first time. I looked at his slender, good-looking face that I had always thought so sensitive, at his gentle mouth and the gray, thoughtful eyes, and I could not remember loving him. Those days nine years ago when I had married him belonged to someone else's life. Another girl. Another world. And love-making was something I could hardly endure. After my first week at home in the New York apartment, he did not come near me again. It was not only I who had changed — there was a difference in Joel. Theo was in control again and I began to wonder if the man I had loved had ever really existed. Perhaps I had only loved a dream.
I could no longer care. For all that I tried, I simply could not respond. The only things that mattered were the truth about my father and the recovery of my son.
By Theo's edict I still had not seen Peter. Once I had been allowed to talk to him on the phone, but the call had interrupted a game he was playing, and he sounded petulant. By this time he was used to being without me, so that nothing at all of the little boy I loved came through. For an hour or two afterward I wavered on the verge of a relapse, but I fought down the all-enveloping sense of futility and I did not call Peter again in his grandmother's brownstone mansion. Desperate and frightened, I faced the unhappy reality. Theo had already made me a stranger to my son and it would take all the ingenuity and guile I could muster to win him back. I didn't even know how to start.
And then Theo Moreland herself opened the way. The letter from her came one morning when Joel had stayed home from the office to work on a batch of manuscripts. There was a strange look on his face when he came out to the kitchen where I was sitting over a late cup of coffee. Almost a look of wariness.
"Theo is reopening Spindrift," he said and tapped the letter with slender fingers. "She wants us to come up there."
The door that opened was at once ajar upon a vista of brimstone and terror. Spindrift was a place I would never return to. It was the scene of my father's death and the beginning of my collapse.
"Don't look like that, Christy," Joel said. "It's not the end of the world to do what she wants," and I knew that he had already given in to his mother as he always did.
I stared without seeing him. "Is she taking Peter with her?" "Yes," Joel said. "She's planning some sort of party to open the house again. She wants to take" — he glanced at the hasty scrawl that was so unmistakably Theo's writing — "to take the curse off the place so it can be put into use again. She thinks it will be good for you and Peter to go back and exorcise — that's the word she's used — all that happened there. She suggests that this would be a good time for me to take a vacation. It had to come," he added. "You know Theo would never give up Spindrift for good."
My mouth was dry and I could feel the quivering in the pit of my stomach. My hands had clenched about my coffee cup and I tried deliberately to relax them. Joel put Theo's note on the table beside me and went quietly away. He had always hated to stay with me through any disturbed mood I might experience. I suspect he felt helpless and that pained him. What he didn't have to watch needn't exist. I sat on at the table and thought about Spindrift.
In Rhode Island's famed Newport there is an avenue called Bellevue. It is not a particularly long street — only three miles. It is continued by Ocean Drive running above the sea, and though the entire area is not large, it is an American phenomenon. It was here that the socially elite, the very rich and powerful, built their summer "cottages" in a wild extravaganza of splendor in the years just before and after the turn of the century. The houses were, in fact, castles, of a peculiarly mixed breed of architecture. Whatever whim governed the owner was indulged, and if the results were sometimes monstrous in their pretension and display, the grand mansions had the proud self-assurance of their masters — and particularly their mistresses, and were, for that period of magnificence, above reproach.
Theodora Colby (later Moreland) had been born to Boston, but not to Newport. Her father had been an ambassador who lived much abroad and the family had no Newport house. But as a child she had several times visited the "summer cottage" called Spindrift. Those were still the days of huge straw hats and veils, of white flannels, Irish lace collars and croquet on the lawn, and she loved every minute of it. Visiting it later in her teens, she vowed to herself that she would someday live in a house like that. The dream was never forgotten and when she had married Hal Moreland and his fortunes had increased to the point of real wealth, Theo went back to have a look at those cottages of her childhood. Many of the great houses had become white elephants that no one wanted any longer and that taxes could eat up. The Newport Preservation Society was not yet engaged in their rescue work as far as the mansions were concerned. Spindrift was on the market and Theo bought it with Hal's money and his amused consent.
But Theodora Moreland was not in society. She was a businesswoman, involved in her husband's work, and completely independent of what was proper and expected — a born nonconformist. So she put Spindrift to work in rather a grand way. Hal's position and driving ambitions led him to consort with the world's noted and even the deservedly-great. There were times when he entertained royalty and heads of governments, and what could prove a better background for lavish entertainment than Spindrift? Theo paid no attention to "the season." She was as likely as not to throw a Christmas party when the coast of the island was bleak and gray, there was snow at the windows, and the fashionable were in Palm Beach. But the chandeliers of Spindrift would be draped with holly and mistletoe, and never had its ballroom shone with more crystal splendor.
Of course she had the house done over from room to room, using what was there, but also buying the furnishings of other Newport castles outright, acquiring antiques and oriental rugs and marble statuary. Fiona helped her. Fiona Keene was my stepmother, but long before she married my father, Adam Keene, she had been the wife of Theo's elder son, Cabot Moreland. Many years ago Cabot and his sister, Iris, had been lost in a tragic boating accident. Theo had liked Fiona and perhaps she wouldn't have been able to bear her marriage to the widowed Adam Keene if it hadn't been that she simply ignored it. To Theo, Fiona was still Cabot's wife. She had worked in interior decorators' shops and made something of a specialty of the Victorian, the turn-of-the-century, and antiques in general. So hers was the knowledge behind Theo's rather gaudy enterprise.
The house was a great success. Old Newport had raised its eyebrows to see it was used not only to welcome the truly famous, but for office gatherings at high level, for the use of those who might lack either blue blood or wealth, and of course to attract the notorious whenever they were useful to the Morelands. It was mainly for extravaganzas, for sumptuously planned house parties, though sometimes simply used as an escape when Hal and Theo wanted to get away from New York to what they regarded as a simpler, less hectic life. The entourage that went with them often belied this. I had been to Spindrift many times as a child with Adam and Fiona, and later as Joel's wife. Our son, Peter, adored it. All those marble columns and balustrades, all of those spooky old rooms with the vast high ceilings and miles of rich red draperies and swags of gold trim! I had enjoyed it myself, become quite fond of it as an anachronism from the past, until the night of that last New Year's Eve party.
Excerpted from "Spindrift"
Copyright © 1975 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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