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Palace Councilby Stephen L. Carter
Synopses & Reviews
USA Today called Stephen L. Carter's last novel the perfect summer read.... Carter slips in so many original, thought-provoking observations that the reader is sad the killer has been caught. Now Carter, the bestselling author of New England White, is back with Palace Council, a gripping political thriller set in the era of Watergate and Vietnam.
Philmont Castle is a man who has it all: wealth, respect, and connections. He's the last person you'd expect to fall prey to a murderer, but when his body is found on the grounds of a Harlem mansion, the young writer Eddie Wesley, along with the woman he loves, Aurelia Treene, are pulled into a 20-year search for the truth. The disappearance of Eddie's sister June makes their investigation even more troubling. As Eddie and Aurelia uncover layer upon layer of intrigue, their odyssey takes them from the wealthy drawing rooms of New York through the shady corners of radical politics all the way to the Oval Office and President Nixon himself.
Suspenseful, provocative, and witty, Palace Council turns our assumptions inside out and reminds us how the struggles of that era set the stage for America today.
"Spanning the years from 1954 to 1974, bestseller Carter's third novel, a subtle and intelligent page-turner, centers on the murder of a prominent white Wall Street attorney, Philmont Castle. After literally stumbling on Castle's garroted corpse in a Harlem park, Eddie Wesley, a young and ambitious African-American writer, is afraid to identify himself to the police. An inverted cross bearing a cryptic inscription clutched in the victim's hand intrigues Wesley enough for him to pursue a trail that leads to a shadowy group of conspirators known as the Palace Council. Aided by his on-again, off-again love interest, Aurelia Treene, Wesley also searches for his beloved sister, Junie, whose disappearance may be connected to Castle's death. Though aspects of the plot require more suspension of disbelief than in Carter's previous novels (New England White; The Emperor of Ocean Park), the rich characterization and elegant writing more than compensate. 6-city author tour. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A cabal of powerful men meets in an East Coast mansion, sometime between the first chill of the Cold War and the dawn of the civil rights era. Claret and cigars are served. The men hatch a secret plan. Mighty forces are set in motion. People's lives get moved around like chess pieces. Murders are committed. History is upended. Their plans bear fruit, and the country reels. Wait --... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) did you assume that all these ruthless plotters were white? In "Palace Council," Stephen L. Carter revisits some of the same family lines that ran through his hugely successful "New England White" and "The Emperor of Ocean Park" in a page-turner that twists through the 20 years between Brown v. Board of Education and the departure of U.S. helicopters flapping like fat geese out of Saigon. The story (sometimes so thick and tricky in its details, you might have to go back a page for every three that you go forward) winds from Harlem to Park Avenue, through Georgetown, Hong Kong, Los Alamos and Saigon, and features a wide range of fictionalized versions of real people: J. Edgar Hoover, Langston Hughes, JFK, Rudolph Abel and Richard Nixon, before he became a ski-nosed Herblock cartoon. At the center of the story is Eddie Wesley, child of a well-known Boston pastor. He graduates from Amherst and sets out for Harlem, searching for the street savvy to become the Richard Wright kind of writer he admires. Eddie is smart and charming. He quickly becomes the intimate of some of Harlem's highborn African American families (although he's not high-ranking enough to win the hand of the fair-skinned Aurelia, who tells him that family responsibilities trump romance). Eddie eventually writes a novel called "Netherwhite," about a young man who is refused entree to Harlem's elite drawing rooms, and undertakes a one-man war of revenge against those who barred the door. White literary critics praise the book as satire, but Eddie knows that he didn't write a send-up. He thinks the reviewers are blinded by condescension: "The critics did not believe, even after reading the novel, that a wealthy black society actually existed in the secret uptown shadows of their own. This was the liberal era in our politics, and the Negro was understood by all to be poor, oppressed, and in special need of white solicitude." Much of the novel's narrative is driven by Eddie's search for his sister, Junie. She's pregnant and has run off with a radical group called Jewel Agony. In the meantime, Eddie becomes a speechwriter in the Kennedy White House, then a journalist, and finds his old group of Harlem friends rising to strategic positions in the government and the CIA. As he periodically searches for Junie, he wonders if Jewel Agony is a group of guerrilla warriors, or actors in some guerrilla theater play that runs through famous events. But is it plotted by the government, radicals or the shadowy Palace Council? Although the long story of "Palace Council" is propelled by loves, longings, intrigues and the murders of many of Eddie's friends and rivals with connections in high places, what draws a reader along is the sharp commentary that Carter, a professor at Yale Law School, plants like runway lights along the way. When Eddie decides to write an article about the romantic popularity of Che Guevara among leftist intellectuals, he wonders "if they really would like to live in the sort of state that successful revolutionaries tended to produce." And it's practically sidesplitting when Carter, one of America's most celebrated academics, dispatches a dinner party guest with the aside "Like many intellectuals, he hated conversations in which he could not shine." Carter's vignettes of historic figures, including Hughes and Hoover, display both scholarship and imagination. But his portrait of Richard Nixon is pitch-perfect and sympathetic enough to remind us that, in 1960, Nixon was a more outspoken supporter of civil rights than Jack Kennedy (who was as reluctant to irritate the Southern segregationist powers of the Democratic Party as he had been to censure Joe McCarthy). The Nixon of Carter's creation is socially awkward, sensitive to slights, frantic for approval and morally oblivious. He drags Eddie along to pay a midnight visit to students encamped on the National Mall before a huge rally against the war in Vietnam. "Johnson's war, not mine," Nixon says to Eddie between bites of bacon over breakfast afterward. "Kennedy started it. Doesn't matter. If it happens on your watch — and we can't abandon them. Cut and run. America doesn't do that. ... Not a matter of right or wrong. Matter of reputation." The '60s were a congenial time for conspiracy theories, full of astounding and chaotic events that were too devastating to accept as the work of chance or cranks (although, perhaps pointedly, Carter does not add the Kennedy assassination to the train of events set in motion by the "Palace Council"). Eddie Wesley is an original and engaging character, a writer who resists being cast as some kind of official ethnic spokesman or predictable polemicist. In the end, he cracks open the mystery of the Palace Council by knowing more about John Milton than he does about Frantz Fanon — a last twist in a mystery that will give a surprising jolt to your conscience. Scott Simon is host of NPR's Weekend Edition and the author, most recently, of the novel "Windy City." Reviewed by Scott Simon, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Stephen Carter can really write. I loved every page of Palace Council and am eager for more." Robert B. Parker
"Carter twists plotlines like pretzels while wryly skewering America's wealthy intellectual elite." People
"Disguised as page-turning summer reading that 'confirms all the worst suspicions of the American left, and, at times, the right,' Palace Council gives grim song to the secrets that men keep in the imperfect world they have inherited." Dallas Morning News
"[A] fat, delicious, page-turning trifecta: It's old-fashioned family saga, a political tour of several tumultuous American decades and a murder mystery." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Mr. Carter's storytelling is underpinned by a masterly evocation of the world of wealthy and accomplished blacks in 20th-century America." Wall Street Journal
"[W]ill grip readers, but it will also make them think. Enthusiastically recommended." Library Journal
"This is Grade-A entertainment." Kirkus Reviews
USA Today hailed Carter's last novel as the perfect summer read. Now the bestselling author of New England White is back with a gripping political thriller set in the era of Watergate and Vietnam.
“Carter twists plotlines like pretzels while wryly skewering Americas wealthy intellectual elite.” —People
John Grisham called Stephen L. Carters first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, “beautifully written and cleverly plotted. A rich, complex family saga, one deftly woven through a fine legal thriller.” The Chicago Tribune hailed Carters next book, New England White, as “a whodunit with conscience.” Now this best-selling novelist returns with an electrifying political thriller set in the turbulent era of Watergate and Vietnam, giving us one of the most riveting and naked portraits of Nixon ever written.
In the summer of 1952, twenty prominent men gather at a secret meeting on Marthas Vineyard and devise a plot to manipulate the President of the United States. Soon after, the body of one of these men is found by Eddie Wesley, Harlems rising literary star. When Eddies younger sister mysteriously disappears, Eddie and the woman he loves, Aurelia Treene, are pulled into what becomes a twenty-year search for the truth. As Eddie and Aurelia uncover layer upon layer of intrigue, their odyssey takes them from the wealthy drawing rooms of New York through the shady corners of radical politics, all the way to the Oval Office.
Stephen Carters novel is as complex as it is suspenseful, and with his unique ability to turn stereotypes inside out, Palace Council is certain to enthrall readers to the very last page.
About the Author
Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. He and his family live near New Haven, Connecticut.
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