The Emperor of Ocean Park
By Stephen L. Carter
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780375413636, 672pp.)
Publication Date: June 4, 2002
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An extraordinary fiction debut: a large, stirring novel of suspense that is, at the same time, a work of brilliantly astute social observation. The Emperor of Ocean Park is set in two privileged worlds: the upper crust African American society of the eastern seaboard—old families who summer on Martha’s Vineyard—and the inner circle of an Ivy League law school. It tells the story of a complex family with a single, seductive link to the shadowlands of crime.
The Emperor of the title, Judge Oliver Garland, has just died, suddenly. A brilliant legal mind, conservative and famously controversial, Judge Garland made more enemies than friends. Many years before, he’d earned a judge’s highest prize: a Supreme Court nomination. But in a scene of bitter humiliation, televised across the country, his nomination collapsed in scandal. The humbling defeat became a private agony, one from which he never recovered.
But now the Judge’s death raises even more questions—and it seems to be leading to a second, even more terrible scandal. Could Oliver Garland have been murdered? He has left a strange message for his son Talcott, a professor of law at a great university, entrusting him with “the arrangements”—a mysterious puzzle that only Tal can unlock, and only by unearthing the ambiguities of his father’s past. When another man is found dead, and then another, Talcott—wry, straight-arrow, almost too self-aware to be a man of action—must risk his career, his marriage, and even his life, following the clues his father left him.
Intricate, superbly written, often scathingly funny, The Emperor of Ocean Park is a triumphant work of fiction, packed with character and incident—a brilliantly crafted tapestry of ambition, family secrets, murder, integrity tested, and justice gone terribly wrong.
Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. He is the author of seven acclaimed nonfiction books, including The Culture of Disbelief and Civility. He lives with his wife and children near New Haven, Connecticut.
"Among the most remarkable fiction debuts in recent years…[The Emperor of Ocean Park] is full of musing about God, family, chess, the politics of Supreme Court appointments, loyalty, unhappy marriage, the media, depression, race, and academic infighting…[Carter] is a scholar and a lawyerly commentator who has penned a rip-roaring entertainment."
"The year's hottest summer read and a surefire bestseller…Carter does for members of the contemporary black upper-class what Henry James did for Washington Square society, taking us into their drawing rooms and laying their motives bare…However The Emperor of Ocean Park is categorized, beach reading doesn't get any better than this."
–Time Out New York
"The Emperor of Ocean Park is a delightful, sprawling, gracefully written, imaginative work, with sharply delineated characters who dwell in a fully realized narrative world…Carter deserves comparison with such successful practitioners of the crime novel as Scott Turow."
–The New York Review of Books
"The Emperor of Ocean Park is an intricately plotted work…a novel that is both thriller and commentary on American racial relations."
–Dan Cryer, Newsday
"[A] complex literary thriller. Carter deftly weaves together several strands, from the relationships of father and sons and husbands and wives to the politics of the Nixon and Reagan eras."
"The Emperor of Ocean Park is no ordinary fiction debut…Carter has produced a thoroughly original mystery-thriller…that also explores the brave terrains of race, family, power, paranoia, and the law…If I may join the hype, The Emperor of Ocean Park rules."
–Book Street USA
"[A] fiercely intelligent and original work…Carter explores an astounding variety of subjects with the depth and delicacy."
–The Miami Herald
"[The Emperor of Ocean Park] is one of the hottest items of the summer, one of the most discussed books of the year. It provides insight into the world of the African-American haute bourgeoisie…and does so with a sophistication and elegance of language that makes much of it a joy to read."
–The Globe and Mail
"Yes, this combination mystery/social commentary/thoughtful introspection is long. But the characters are masterfully developed, and its gripping story, elegant writing and skillful illumination of a segment of society that has been notably absent from popular fiction more than justify its 657 pages. The Emperor of Ocean Park is an outstanding work of fiction worth every penny…If you read only one book this summer, make sure it's this one."
–The Sunday Star-Ledger
"Stephen L. Carter's debut novel, "The Emperor of Ocean Park," is a marvel: a deeply satisfying thriller that is as careful with character as it is with conspiracy…This is an exhilarating summer read that will be remembered long after the season is over."
–Contra Costa Times
"Poised to become the biggest book of the summer."
"This reader hasn't inhaled a novel so rich, rewarding and compelling since Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. Like Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent it transports the reader into a different world and creates characters that resonate long after you finish it…The mystery aspects had me reading the book at stop signs while driving."
–Deirdre Donahue, USA Today
"More le Carré than Grisham . . . a vivid, twisty puzzle of deceit and social commentary."
–V.R. Peterson, People
"The Emperor of Ocean Park is, in a word, a humdinger."
"This first-rate legal thriller, which touches electrically on our sexual, racial and religious anxieties, will be the talk of the political in-crowd this summer."
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Fascinating. . . . [A] suspenseful tale of ambition, revenge, and the power of familial obligations. . . . An elegantly nuanced novel, with finely drawn characters, a challenging plot, and perfect pacing."
"A novel of great originality and insight: a saga of an African-American family of affluence and privilege forced to reckon with their misadventures and crimes. But Carter's novel also explores, perhaps for the first time in recent memory, a less familiar vision of the black experience in America: one of pride and optimism, and possibility. I've never read a book quite like it, and I enjoyed it very much indeed."
"This sleek, immensely readable first novel is custom-designed for the kind of commercial success enjoyed by John Grisham's The Firm 11 years ago. . . . With great skill, Carter builds toward a series of climaxes that explode over the final 150 pages. Few readers will refrain from racing excitedly through them. A melodrama with brains and heart to match its killer plot. . . . Irresistible."
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For its 10th anniversary, the festival celebrates those who have dared to stand ‘on the edge,’ risking their careers, and sometimes their lives, to speak out for their art and beliefs. Join us for a wide range of events, including debates, one-on-one conversations, participatory workshops and performances in venues throughout the city. Use the code PEN14 (use PEN2014 for events at The Public Theater) and receive a 20 percent discount on most events. www.worldvoicesfestival.org