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The Emperor of Ocean Park Paperback – May 27, 2003

3.4 out of 5 stars 459 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Elm Harbor Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375712925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375712920
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (459 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Antonio on July 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Although black influence may be discerned in many strands of modern popular culture, from sports to stand-up comedy, from music to fashion and movies, one couldn't say that this has also been the case for fiction. Professor Carter's book is a welcome first step in populating a compelling plot-driven narrative with characters we haven't heard from before (or at least, not to my knowledge). In "The Emperor of Ocean Park" black university graduates with high-powered jobs and all sorts of material comforts are resolutely center-stage. In Philip Roth's "The Human Stain", the main character must resign his blackness to achieve success and power in the academical world. Carter's characters never resign their race to be successful in the white man's world. The main voice is Talcott Garland's. He is a lawyer in his forties, a professor of law in an ivy-league-ish university, which in spite of Carter's denial in a post-scriptum is a straigth forward rendition of Yale Law School, where the author teaches. Garland is a complex man, not a cypher, surely a cut above the generic "cut-and-paste" renditions typical of modern popular fiction. He is slightly overweight, not very likeable (he is aloof and emotionally remote), very much his father's son. The father, the eponymous "Emperor of Ocean Park", is Oliver Garland, known in the book as "The Judge", a composite of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Judge Robert Bork and famous intellectual Thomas Sowell. A moderately conservative civil rights lawyer, he is appointed to a federal judgeship in the District of Columbia Appelate Court where he moves increasingly to the right. In the Reagan era he is nominated to the Supreme Court, but he must withdraw his candidacy when certain sordid associations become known to the public.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
(1) Too many secondary characters receive too much attention

(2) A crucial character who is set-up to be intriguing turns out to have no impact on the plot at all

(3) A big secret you were waiting for...is never revealed

(4) Most of the characters are extremely self-absorbed

(5) For a book that supposedly relates the experiences an unfamiliar world. I found very little that could be called insightful or even fresh.

(6)There's a couple of nice passages that made me say "right on!" But not enough.

(7) Sub-plots introduced early in the book have very abrupt endings midway through...muting their impact or cause you to wonder why it wasn't edited out.

(8) At close to 700 pages the pacing was very inconsistent: at times I coudn't put it down, but more often I felt anchored in one spot for 50 to 100 pages at a time.

(9) The tone was unremittingly downbeat.
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Format: Hardcover
This book has gotten a lot of good press- good reviews and the distinction of being The Today Show's first book club selection. Not a bad introduction to the market. The reality, in this case, doesn't live up to the hype.
Carter's style might be better suited to writing non-fiction than fiction. The book bills itself as a thriller, yet lacks the pace needed to sustain a good thriller. Of course, there's more to this book than the solving of a mystery, for the questions to be answered are woven into an examination of the deceased Judge Oliver Garland's character, politics, and familial role as well as an exploration of love, fidelity, loyalty - all issues of life beyond the solving of a mystery. Maybe that's the problem - Carter bites off so much, that it takes him over 650 pages to digest it all, and ultimately leaves the reader with the feeling of indigestion one gets from overindulging at a buffet rather than with the satiety of having enjoyed a fine meal. There's enough material for two novels - one a mystery, one a character (or issue) analysis. Each character has his own agenda: Older son Addison is the most detached from the family crisis, although he actually knows more than his siblings. Mariah, mother of 5 (to become 6 in the course of the book) has such comforts in her affluent life that she is left with no reponsibilities, a condition which unleashes her active imagination in seeking the answer to the family mystery. Younger son Talcott narrates. He is a complex character with personal issues that sometimes hinder his search. Are we following his relationship with his deceased father, who he refers to formally as "The Judge," or is it his splintering relationship with wife Kimmer, a candidate for a Court of Appeals judgeship?
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Format: Hardcover
Your Honor, the People will gladly stipulate that, if he will just move the story along, Professor Carter is uncommonly erudite and well-informed, culturally astute, and can hold forth on everything from Hindu deities to semiotics to classical music to minivans, as he proves in this book.
Every paragraph in his torturous and tortuous first novel is a rumination on or digression from the one before--physicists need look no further to discover the universe's longest distance between two points. In one spot, nearly three pages go by between the first and second rings of a phone. In another, one sentence is 25 lines long. The author must've made a deal with Knopf to be paid by the syllable (about three for a dollar if the reported amount of his advance is correct).
Story-wise, Carter has written a good 350-page yarn that takes him 650 pages to tell. A more apt title might've been Jerk Like Me since none of the characters is a bit likeable. As he takes three pages in an afterword to point out, they and the locations are fictional. It's a great relief to know that he himself is not the whiny, racist, snotty, law-professor second son of the title's deceased patriarch, who is still despotic despite being dead.
I have never written a novel--it seems so much easier to get one from Amazon. But if I did, I'm sure I would be infected with the same "first-novelitis" that befell Carter, the need to shoehorn into the tome every arcane bit of minutia, insightful observation and belabored turn of phrase I'd ever encountered in my life until then (I am the anti-Proust). If that's all out his system now, Carter's second novel could be a true masterpiece.
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