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From the master observer of upper-crust New York life comes a sly, pacey international thriller ranging from the suites of an elite Manhattan law firm to the tidy elegance of Sag Harbor and the rough and tumble western plains of Brazil.
Jack Dana, a star history student at Yale with a bright future in academia, feels called to military service after 9/11. His career as a Marine infantry platoon leader is cut short by sniper fire that sends him to Walter Reed Hospital, where he begins writing a novel about his wartime experiences. Helping Jack through recovery is his uncle Harry, Jack’s surrogate father and a partner in a leading New York law firm. Harry’s connections secure Jack a publisher. His work is critically and commercially successful. Life after Afghanistan is falling into place, and a three-month trip to South America seems a fitting reward. But his return home is marred by shocking news: Uncle Harry is dead, hanged in his Sag Harbor summer home, clearly a suicide.
Horrified and incredulous, Jack digs into the facts surrounding his uncle’s death. Aided by Harry’s most trusted associate, Kerry Black, and by his college friend Scott Prentice, who now works for the CIA, Jack discovers that Harry had pierced the secret of his most important client, Abner Brown, a right-wing multibillionaire notorious for backing extremist causes. The stakes and dangers are huge. Harry’s death now seems anything but a suicide.
Delays of law are not for Jack when it comes to avenging his uncle. He takes matters into his own hands. Louis Begley’s taut, intelligent thriller takes readers from the knotty politics of New York law firms to the intimacy of life on the Long Island shore, all with his trademark wit and nuance.
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Louis Begley’s previous novels are Memories of a Marriage, Schmidt Steps Back, Matters of Honor, Shipwreck, Schmidt Delivered, Mistler’s Exit, About Schmidt, As Max Saw It, The Man Who Was Late, and Wartime Lies, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
This is a true story. I have changed the names of certain persons in order to protect them from harm. Other than that, I have concealed nothing. My conscience is clear. What I’ve done I’d do again without a moment’s hesitation. Some will think that I should have stuck to the rules—put my faith in criminal justice and let the murderer plea-bargain his way to a cushy sentence. So be it. I despise cowards and hypocritical pussies, and their holier-than-thou naïveté.
My name is Jack Dana. I am a former Marine Infantry officer and Force Recon platoon leader. I am also the author of three successful books. The first of these I wrote at Walter Reed, undergoing surgeries to fix the damage done to my pelvis by the bullets of a Taliban sniper outside Delaram (a nasty spot in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province) in the minute or so before my team killed him. It may seem odd that someone like me—honor graduate of the Corps’ toughest combat schools, those where you learn to gun down enemies unlucky enough to be in range or, if they’re close enough, punch a blade between their ribs—should become a novelist. The truth is that to every thing there is a season. I put my training to use during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the door-to-door fighting in the second battle for Fallujah I learned how easy it is to kill a man. You squeeze the trigger slowly; the round finds its target, and he crumples and falls to the ground. Easier yet, you throw a satchel charge through a window, and down comes the building. I would have gone on doing just that but, though the repairs of which the surgeons were so proud had put me into excellent shape, my new excellent wasn’t good enough for a Corps Infantry officer. Never mind. Writing books was a return of sorts to the life I expected to lead before we were attacked on September 11, 2001.
I am the only child of a Harvard philosophy professor father and a flutist mother who played with a Boston-based chamber orchestra, and I was raised in a comfortable clap- board house off Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After graduating from a New Hampshire boarding school that my father and his younger only sibling, Harry, had also attended, I went to Yale. Why Yale instead of Harvard, my father’s and uncle’s alma mater? I didn’t want to be in my father’s ample shadow. For the same reason, while I planned to pursue an academic career, I shied away from philosophy, choosing instead ancient Greek and Roman history. Alas, before long I was to regret bitterly the decision that had taken me away from Cambridge. My beautiful and gifted mother fell sick during the spring of my freshman year. By the following Christmas she was dead, the victim of a furiously aggressive ovarian cancer. My father’s despair knew no bounds. I went up to see him on as many weekends as I could, but my efforts to help him shake off depression were mostly unavailing. He had never fully recovered from wounds and other traumas he’d suffered during the fighting in Vietnam. A massive stroke felled him in the winter of my senior year. Paralyzed from the neck down, he slipped into a vegetative coma, and it took all of Uncle Harry’s calm authority and legal skill to get the hospital to respect my father’s health directive and my wishes and disconnect him from life-support machines. We buried him alongside my mother in the Mount Auburn Cemetery.
My mother had been an only child. Uncle Harry, now my only living relative, had never married and considered me the son he would have wished to have. Lest one draw unwarranted inferences or buy into the slurs that have been spread about him, I affirm that he was anything but gay—closeted or otherwise. But he’d been unlucky in love, attaching himself to married women who in the end could not bring themselves to leave their cuckolded husbands, and, in one case, to a woman who put her career ahead of him. She was a famous ballerina who had told him from the first that she didn’t think marriage and her art could be reconciled. Gradually, they drifted apart. His last great love was a much-younger Peruvian lawyer, a raven-haired beauty who laid claim to Inca blood. They met in Lima where she assisted him, as Peruvian local counsel, in the negotiation of a copper mine investment by Harry’s client, Abner Brown. The reclusive and eccentric Texas billionaire was not yet generally known to the American public as the embodiment of extreme right-wing politics. Harry had begun working for him a year or so earlier, having been recommended by a satisfied client. Harry was a man of perfect manners and unbending principles. Mixing professional dealings with romance was taboo so far as he was concerned, and he was convinced that his courtship of Olga began only at the barbecue Brown gave at his ranch outside Houston to celebrate the successful closing of the Peruvian transaction, which, he said in toasting Harry, had added a cool five hundred million dollars to his fortune. Harry, he gloated, took those Peruvian bureaucratic monkeys to the cleaners, ha! ha! ha! Fortunately, none of those scorned monkeys was present. Indeed, the only Peruvian in attendance was Olga. In the course of apologizing to her for Brown’s odious tirade, Harry discovered to his astonishment and joy that she hadn’t thought of being angry at him, and that she had seen through his carefully maintained policy of injecting no personal feelings into their professional relationship: his suit had been expected and was welcome. It did not take them long to decide they would be married as soon as Olga had completed work on her pending legal cases or transferred them to other lawyers in her firm. They planned a Lima wedding in September of 1992. Fate had other plans. Olga was one of the twenty-odd victims killed by a truck-bomb attack launched in July of that year by the Shining Path insurgency in what became known, after the street down which the truck rolled, as the Tarata bombing. A week of violent attacks followed, paralyzing Lima. The capture of Shining Path’s supreme leader, Abimael Guzmán, two months later knocked the wind out of the insurgency’s sails, but that was no consolation to my uncle. He considered himself a widower and spent the rest of his life mourning his lost Inca.
My Christmas and spring vacation trips to visit Harry, which I made alone as soon as I went to boarding school, were treats to which I looked forward all through the school year. He practiced law in Manhattan as a leading corporate partner in the powerful Jones & Whetstone firm. His apartment on Fifth Avenue was steps away from the Metropolitan Museum. At his urging, I explored its galleries, sometimes accompanied by a young curator. Harry knew everybody, and that sort of thing seemed easy for him to arrange. In the evening—and whenever he was free at lunch—he’d invite me to his club or to one of the French restaurants he liked best. Other evenings we went to the opera, theater, or ballet, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Harry formed my taste in art and music. There were also family visits. Those had usually taken place in the summer, when my parents and he were all on vacation. We’d spend a long weekend at his Long Island home in the part of Sag Harbor that escaped the conflagration of 1845, which destroyed much of that once-important port. His house was an early-nineteenth-century structure, a warren of small rooms, many of them strangely shaped, complemented by a barn that had been converted into a high-ceilinged studio with its own bathroom. The studio was officially Harry’s office, but when I was finally allowed to visit him in Sag Harbor alone he told me to consider it my bedroom and my private domain. As it turned out, however, I hardly ever slept in it after that first summer. I preferred to be in the guest bedroom across the corridor from Harry’s bedroom and realized he rather liked his postprandial naps on the sofa in the studio.
That our family visits to Sag Harbor were never longer, in spite of the comfort of Harry’s house and the allure of his sailboat and the bay and ocean beaches, was due to the tension between him and my father. On the surface, their relationship was as affectionate as befit two brothers separated in age by not more than three years, and the difficulty was never alluded to by them. But it was there: a black storm cloud visible in a brilliant summer sky. The explanation was given to me by my mother, the person who was closest to Harry, at a time when she knew she was dying. She wanted me to understand both him and my father better. The rift—for it was really that, not a quarrel—could be traced to Harry’s not having served during the Vietnam War. He had waited for the draft board to call him up and in the course of the preinduction medical examination was classified 4F on a basis he never disclosed. Since he was an avid, expert, and indefatigable swimmer and tennis player, it seemed inconceivable that he had been turned down on account of a physical condition. Had the psychiatric part of the exam revealed a psychosis that had gone until then unnoticed? Or had he, as my father and grandfather suspected but would never say, led the doctor to the erroneous—of that they were convinced—conclusion that he was gay? It didn’t matter. Since he had not expressed an insurmountable objection to the war, their own conclusion, intolerable to my warrior father and his and Harry’s warrior father, was that Harry had weaseled out of serving, that he was a coward. My mother didn’t care. All that mattered to her was the conviction that Harry had a heart of gold and could be trusted to look after my welfare.
Indeed, I cannot imagine what would have become of me without Harry during the dreadful spring when my father was dying. His steady and unobtrusive help let me keep my emotional balance and complete my senior year’s work successfully enough to graduate with highest honors and be awarded a Yale scholarship for study at Balliol College at Oxford. All the tasks connected with closing and selling my parents’ house and settling my father’s estate were likewise lifted from my shoulders, so that once again I was able to concentrate on my studies. The result was far beyond my hopes. Just before Easter, I was invited to join the Society of Fellows at Harvard as a Junior Fellow. It was an academic honor with important practical implications. The stipend I would receive during the following three academic years would allow me to pursue my studies in my own way, without the need to enroll in a Ph.D. program or to start looking immediately for a teaching position. I would be free to find my own way. Harry was the trustee of the small trust my father had set up for me under his will. I wrote to him about the Society of Fellows and asked whether he thought I could afford a four-to-six-week summer vacation in Italy. With a guest, I specified, an English girl I’d met at Oxford and hoped to convince to do graduate work at Harvard. Harry’s answer came by phone. After he had finally finished congratulating me, he gave me his answer: Money isn’t a problem, but the canicular heat will be. Don’t be a cheapskate and make sure you and the young lady are at the beach or have access to a swimming pool.
Directly after Labor Day, I flew from Rome to Boston and went about organizing my new life in Cambridge, my lovely Felicity having promised to join me during her winter break. I thought we’d surprise Harry by spending Christmas with him and then try powder-snow skiing in Alta. To my delight, the small apartment on Craigie Street that the university had recommended was exactly what I wanted. I signed the lease, arranged to have some pieces of my parents’ furniture delivered from storage, and had electricity and telephone and Internet service turned on. Then on September 10, I took the shuttle to LaGuardia and went straight to Harry’s office, getting there by midafternoon, to wish him a happy birthday. Making a fuss was a better decision than I had realized. His secretary had given him a present—cuff links, he showed me—and a couple of younger partners he worked with had taken him to lunch at a sushi restaurant, but he had no plans for the evening.
It’s my own decision, he told me. My law school classmate and best friend at the firm, Simon Lathrop, and his wife wanted to have a small dinner, but I wasn’t up to it. Olga and I were going to be married this very weekend, nine years ago. Spending the evening with four or five apparently happy couples ... I just couldn’t do it. Even if some of them are people I genuinely love. That’s why I usually celebrate my birthday by getting away. But this week and the next I’m stuck in the city. I should tell you that I had another, special reason for not accepting the Lathrops’ invitation. I was secretly hoping you’d show up.
My present consisted of taking Harry out to dinner. It being Monday evening, his favorite French restaurant was closed, and I told him that if we were to have a meal up to his standards he had better pick a replacement.
There is an Italian restaurant I like a lot, he said, that serves food from the Trieste region. If you’re not sick and tired of Italian food, let’s go there.
We met at the restaurant and treated the dinner with the seriousness it merited, finishing off a bottle of old Barolo and lingering after the meal over a single varietal grappa. It was past eleven when we left the restaurant. To clear our heads, an effort that in my case didn’t entirely succeed, we walked the twenty-odd blocks to Harry’s apartment. At some point mild inebriation gave me the necessary courage, and I asked whether he had really decided to live out his life alone. Could it be that his love for Olga excluded the possibility of another attachment? He was silent for a long while, and I feared that I had made him angry. His answer reassured me.
It’s not that simple, he told me. Olga wouldn’t have wanted me to be so lonely. But something like a wall of ice has built up around me, and it’s harder and harder to break a passage through it. Strangely, finding my work as satisfying as I do, having deep relationships with people in the firm, especially younger partners and associates who work for me, liking my clients, have had a perverse effect, reinforcing my isolation. My igloo is very comfortable! And don’t forget, there is also my adorable Plato....
I had to smile at that, and to conceal my delight. Plato was Harry’s Burmese kitten, a tomcat almost small enough to hold in my rather-large hand when I gave him to Harry for his birthday a year ago, just before flying off to England. It turned out to be love at first sight and had only grown more solid. Letters and emails brought me news of Plato’s exploits—in the New York apartment they played an elabo- rate game of marbles, Harry rolling them to Plato and Plato batting them back with his paw, and in Sag Harbor, once Harry decided he could allow Plato the run of the garden, the kitty proved to be a redoubtable hunter, the scourge of mice and chipmunks—and ever since Harry had learned to email photos, he circulated images of Plato with the pride of a new father. I had spent only a few hours with Plato that afternoon, but, having been brought up with cats, I didn’t need more to be conquered once again by the little fellow’s intelligence and elegant manners.
We said good...
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Book Description Nan a Talese, United States, 2015. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the master observer of upper-crust New York life comes a sly, pacey international thriller ranging from the suites of an elite Manhattan law firm to the tidy elegance of Sag Harbor and the rough and tumble western plains of Brazil. Jack Dana, a star history student at Yale with a bright future in academia, feels called to military service after 9/11. His career as a Marine infantry platoon leader is cut short by sniper fire that sends him to Walter Reed Hospital, where he begins writing a novel about his wartime experiences. Helping Jack through recovery is his uncle Harry, Jack s surrogate father and a partner in a leading New York law firm. Harry s connections secure Jack a publisher. His work is critically and commercially successful. Life after Afghanistan is falling into place, and a three-month trip to South America seems a fitting reward. But his return home is marred by shocking news: Uncle Harry is dead, hanged in his Sag Harbor summer home, clearly a suicide. Horrified and incredulous, Jack digs into the facts surrounding his uncle s death. Aided by Harry s most trusted associate, Kerry Black, and by his college friend Scott Prentice, who now works for the CIA, Jack discovers that Harry had pierced the secret of his most important client, Abner Brown, a right-wing multibillionaire notorious for backing extremist causes. The stakes and dangers are huge. Harry s death now seems anything but a suicide. Delays of law are not for Jack when it comes to avenging his uncle. He takes matters into his own hands. Louis Begley s taut, intelligent thriller takes readers from the knotty politics of New York law firms to the intimacy of life on the Long Island shore, all with his trademark wit and nuance. Seller Inventory # AAS9780385539142
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