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Palace Council Hardcover – Bargain Price, July 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dominic Hoffman's voice possesses a touch of sandpaper that causes every word to be rubbed raw before emerging from between his lips. The hardboiled sensation is appropriate for law professor and novelist Carters suspenseful story of secret societies, political intrigue, and the social swirl of Harlems 1950s elite. Eddie Wesley, a writer and member of African-American high society, finds himself thrust into a shadowy world of murder and espionage, forced to use his authorial skills to uncover the truth. Hoffmans occasional forays into doing voices, like those of Vietnamese police officers, are unfortunate, but the grain of his voice is alluring enough that listeners will want him to just keep going. A Knopf hardcover (Reviews, May 19).(Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Set primarily in the years between 1954 and 1974—what Carter calls the "two decades" of the sixties—this political thriller leaves virtually no important person or event unturned. Richard Nixon, Langston Hughes, and dissident groups all play roles as the action shifts from Harlem to Washington and Saigon. After Eddie Wesley stumbles upon the body of a prominent lawyer who died clutching the talisman of a secret society in his fist, he finds himself caught up in the machinations of spies and assassins. Untangling the so-called Palace Council’s purpose gains new urgency when Eddie’s sister suddenly vanishes. At the same time, Aurelia, the ex-girlfriend for whom he still carries a torch, is on her own path to discovering the enigmatic group’s secrets. While Carter offers a finely drawn picture of the complicated black social world, and the high-reaching conspiracy has its allure, he seems to strain to pull his story together—discarded candy wrappers become a clue to the anticlimactic finish.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (July 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616791063
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616791063
  • ASIN: B002KAOS9M
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Eric Wilson on July 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Carter's first novel, "The Emperor of Ocean Park," gained a lot of attention through its John Grisham endorsement and huge advance. Intrigued, I had to read it for myself, and found it to be well-written, intricate, and sometimes ponderous. I picked up a copy of "New England White," and found it to be much the same, but I didn't have the time or patience to finish that one, so I set it aside.

Despite that last hiccup, I dove into "Palace Council" and found myself immersed in conspiracy theories, great characters, witty repartee, and interesting glimpses into our nation's history. Carter takes his time drawing readers into the lives of Eddie and Aurelia, a rising black novelist and the woman he loves but who has married an upper-class politico. Eddie's heart is further tested when something happens to his sister. These events, along with the discovery of a body in a park, lead him on a lengthy chase through the corridors of power and the racial and political issues of his day. We meet Langston Hughes, JFK, Richard Nixon, and others. For those willing to forge through five hundred pages, there are numerous social insights and questions raised.

At the heart of the story, as in Carter's other novels, mystery abounds. If you're looking for a Lee Child thriller, though, this is not it. Some have the patience for this type of cerebral thriller, others have not. For me, it was a rewarding read, made all the better by the investment I had to put in. Now I'll go back and finish "New England White." I'm convinced that Carter will make it worth my while.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Charles Monagan on July 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a big, sprawling novel whose reach exceeds its grasp. The characters are compelling, the settings are consistently interesting, the social milieu is fascinating, but the plot, after beginning with great promise, wobbles and shakes and finally crashes into a sort of incoherence. There's a conspiracy at the center of things, a vast, ambitious conspiracy, but instead of tightening and becoming more ominous as the book goes on, it becomes vaguer and more diffuse. There is an artificial feel to things. Characters seem to appear and events occur strictly because the author wants them to, rather than as a result of any organic storytelling. Mysteries are not adequately explained. Clues are apparently understood by the characters (such as when one of them knows where to look for some papers in a haunted mansion) but never shared with the reader. By the end you will be scratching your head and wondering what all the fuss (and 500 pages) was about. Still, despite all this, it is an enjoyable summer read, especially as a privileged look in on a genteel mid-20th-Century African-American society as it was breaking up and vanishing from the face of the earth.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on July 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Stephen L. Carter's PALACE COUNCIL story of Edward Trotter Wesley Jr. begins in 1952 and spans more than twenty years. Eddie, the son of a respected black preacher, grew up in a culturally and intellectually thriving upper-class Harlem he later captured, to acclaim but also to skepticism in books of his own: When Eddie's fourth novel, NETHERWHITE, was published, "The white critics praised its sharp satiric eye, not realizing that everything Eddie wrote about Harlem he meant literally. 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." Not coincidentally, the same may be said of how law professor Carter's novels -- this one surely -- are greeted.

Eddie, after his youth in Harlem, graduated from Amherst and launched a splashy career as a writer of mostly fiction, about and appealing to the "dark nation," his persistent term for black America. Following the failure to win the hand of Aurelia Treene, "his unattainably highborn girlfriend." he, like another fictional character who is famous for comparing life to a box of chocolates, trawled through our recent history. During the fifties, sixties, and seventies he witnessed key events and encountered notables such as Langston Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, and Richard Nixon (whom Aurelia knows as "Dick"). Although plot purposes sometimes distort timelines in PALACE COUNCIL, the civil rights struggle, the national turmoil of the Vietnam war, and Watergate served as backdrops for Eddie's colorful life.

These upheavals also formed the impetus for the formation of domestic urban guerrilla organizations such as the real Weathermen and the Black Panthers.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Floyd M. Orr on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Although I had heard of Stephen L. Carter long ago, this is the first book of his that I have read. As a Baby Boomer born six years prior to Mr. Carter, I have been living through and following the same historic, modern American events that the author has so explicitly integrated into his complex tale of intrigue. Palace Council displays a clever conceit similar to the one so prevalent throughout the movie, Forrest Gump, in which lead fictional characters intertwine seamlessly with famous figures and events in history. To compound the power of the story, the book is written with the same fascinating depth of family saga that made certain books from an earlier decade such bestsellers. Palace Council, in one way or another, aptly reminded me of Rich Man, Poor Man, Kane & Abel, and All the President's Men. With its plot encircling the interrelationships among Joe Kennedy, his legendary sons, LBJ, MLK, and the grand poohbah himself, J. Edgar Hoover, this book is certainly a second cousin to a lesser-known miniseries that I have always loved entitled Hoover vs. The Kennedys. The punch line is that Palace Council is as good as any of these famous, wonderfully detailed books and movies.

Whether or not you believe in conspiracy theories of one theme or another, I feel that most deeply thinking Americans have at least considered this fact. There have been many cases throughout the country's esteemed and infamous history in which, if a conspiracy was not afoot, then our great nation has been ruled either by insufferably long strings of consequence or notions of deep stupidity. I have long harbored at least a few thoughts toward the former simply because the alternative is far less fathomable.
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