Frank McCourt says: Give yourself a treat. Settle down with Well Bred and Dead. Let the world go by while you drift into Catherine O'Connell's Chicago - a world of vivid characters (mainly female) who are so rich, so delicate, so tough they never order the same wine twice. Ms. O'Connell is, quite simply, a hell of a storyteller, a master of plot, a tart observer of the social scene. All this is spun out in a prose that hums along to a conclusion that leaves you gasping.
From Publisher’s Weekly: Meet Pauline Cook, star of O’Connell’s sparkling standalone. Cook, a widowed Chicago socialite, is devastated by the apparent suicide of her dead friend, gay society columnist Ethan Campbell. The police turn up a small stash of birth certificates in Ethan’s apartment, and Pauline begins to wonder if her boon companion—always a bit cagey about his past—was who he claimed to be. Her search for answers takes her to England; Boston; Rochester, N.Y.; and Charleston, S.C. Along the way, several wealthy suitors woo Pauline—kudos to O’Connell (Skins) for the frank, funny writing about middle-aged sexual desire...The surprising denouement includes a last line that’s laugh-out-loud funny.
Kirkus Reviews says: If you can’t be too rich or too thin, can you be too dead, or not dead enough?
Her best friend Ethan Campbell’s suicide makes socialite Pauline Cook wonder whether his life was a sham—a question she needs to answer before laying him to rest. The birth certificate in his apartment bears the name Daniel Kehoe. That’s enough information to start Pauline on a search that leads to England, where she falls for handsome Irishman Terrance Sullivan. She travels to Boston to discover that the Kehoes had moved to Rochester, where she finds Daniel’s half-sister. But a trip to the Charleson area with Terrance uncovers hints that her Ethan may have killed the real Ethan and stolen his identity. Back in Chicago, she’s approached by an estate bounty hunter who tells her that Ethan/Daniel was the illegitimate son of a wealthy Boston man who’s left him half his estate. As his legatee, Pauline stands to inherits a hunk of $33 million—money she badly needs, because since running through her late husband’s small estate, she’s been maintaining her extravagant lifestyle on credit that is about to run dry. The newly rich Pauline is leaving for Paris when Ethan comes back from the dead, provoking a dangerous duel of wits.
O’Connell’s debut is a wry look at the lifestyles of the rich and an amusing mystery with a twist in its tail.
Prologue: The clock ticked the morning away slowly, each second an eternity as I battled the alternating demons of boredom and fear. I was hungry and thirsty and, worst of all, I had to use the bathroom, as my captors had not given me the opportunity to do so before taking their leave. My body ached from the pull of ropes, but any attempt to shift my position made it feel like my joints were dislocating. My hair stuck to my face in greasy copper clumps with the exception of one obnoxious strand that tickled my nose in an excruciating manner. Since the duct tape over my mouth prevented me from simply blowing the hair away, I turned my head into the pillow and painfully managed to rub it aside. Throughout the ordeal Fleur remained faithfully at my side, flicking her tail as she studied my predicament with feline curiosity.
Wondering just how much longer I could hold out before soiling myself and my Frette sheets, not daring to contemplate how long I might last without food and water, I stared at the ceiling and reflected upon my life. I thought about what I would have done differently given the opportunity to live it over again. I would have been a kinder, more caring person. I would have spent less on couture clothes and high-end cosmetics and more on others. I would have gotten involved in philanthropic activities that actually touched the needy, like food banks and homeless shelters, instead of the high-profile events that put one on the A-list, like the Tiffany Ball. I would have been more sympathetic to my mother’s plight and her struggle for dignity, instead of blaming her for Grandmother’s disinheritance.
I might have even had children.
Of the many things I would have done differently, two stood out far and above the others. I never would have invested my money in derivatives, and I never, never, never would have befriended Ethan Campbell.
Chapter One Cold Lunch: The thing that really irks me is that I paid for Ethan’s funeral. At the time it seemed like the right thing to do, seeing as he had made me his heir. Had I know then what I know now, I wouldn’t have put out a single sou, much less the small fortune I spent to see to it that he had a proper send-off. But Ethan knew me all too well and knew I would tidy things for him, that I wouldn’t be able to live with the thought of his remains ending up in some unmarked grave or as an anonymous pile of ash in the county morgue.
Looking back, much of his deception shouldn’t have come as a surprise. There were inconsistencies about him all along, starting with his awkward table manners and ending with the seedy area in which he lived. There are not customarily the ways of one to the manner born. But Ethan was a writer, and since writers are known for their eccentricities, I simply chose to attribute Ethan’s to his literary bent. Thus, not only did Ethan’s charade take me completely unaware but the depth of it was as unanticipated as an earthquake in the Midwest.
Now I’m getting ahead of myself. Though Ethan’s story really begins the moment he was conceived, it became my undoing the day I went to his apartment and found the body. Prior to that, the thought of Ethan as anything other than my best friend would never have crossed my mind. What followed afterward just shows how little we know those we think we know best.