A complex, smart mystery filled with intrigue, drama, and more than a little danger awaits in Stephen L. Carter's engaging debut novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park
. After the funeral of his powerful father (a federal judge whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court became a public scandal), Talcott Garland, an African American law professor at an Ivy League university, is left to unravel the meaning of a cryptic note and carry out "the arrangements" his father left behind. Armed with fortitude and familial devotion--though paranoid of his wife's fidelity--Talcott soon finds himself in an investigation that entangles him with a number of questionable Washington, D.C., denizens, including attorneys and government officials, law professors, the FBI, shady underworld figures, chess masters, and friends and family. All the while Talcott tries not to hurt his attorney wife's chance for a judicial nomination--and their fragile marriage--but the closer he comes to unraveling his father's dark secrets, the more dangerous things become.
Clocking in at over 650 pages, the novel could easily have been streamlined; many of Talcott's thoughts are unnecessarily repeated. But Carter's storytelling skills are adept: tension builds, surprises are genuine, clues are not handed out freely. The prose, while somewhat meandering, can be crisp and insightful, as demonstrated in Carter's description of the misguided paths of young attorneys who sacrifice
all on the altar of career... at last arriving... at their cherished career goals, partnerships, professorships, judgeships, whatever kind of ships they dream of sailing, and then looking around at the angry, empty waters and realizing that they have arrived with nothing, absolutely nothing, and wondering what to do with the rest of their wretched lives. --Michael Ferch
From Publishers Weekly
Carter, a Yale law professor and distinguished conservative African-American intellectual known for his nonfiction (The Culture of Disbelief), has written a first-rate legal thriller guaranteed to broaden his audience. The narrator, Talcott Garland, is a law professor at Elm Harbor University whose occasional Carteresque editorializing about politics and justice are saved from didacticism by his abiding existential loneliness. The mystery at the heart of the novel stems from Tal's father's disgrace: Judge Oliver Garland (a Robert Bork meets Clarence Thomas type) was nominated by Ronald Reagan for a Supreme Court seat, but brought down in the Senate hearings when it was revealed that he had a friendship with Jack Ziegler, a wild-card former CIA agent now rumored to be an organized crime kingpin. When the judge dies of what looks like a heart attack and Ziegler turns up at his funeral, Tal is initiated into a quest to uncover mysterious "arrangements" his father made in the event of his untimely demise. Various shady entities observe Tal chasing down the judge's clues, which include a cryptic note ("you have little time.... Excelsior! It begins!") and derive from chess strategy. Meanwhile, Talcott is going through a rough patch: his wife, Kimmer, a high-powered attorney, is probably cheating on him, his Elm Harbor law school colleagues are suspicious of him and a fake FBI man is following him around. As Talcott digs deeper, he uncovers a vein of corruption that runs all the way to the top, and his own life becomes threatened. This thriller, which touches electrically on our sexual, racial and religious anxieties, will be the talk of the political in-crowd this summer.
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