A ‘high society mystery’ with a satirical edge
As Aspenites, we like to think we have some insight into the big-moneyed life, but do we? We may live around multimillion-dollar homes and walk by shops full of fur, jewelry and haute couture, but how many of those who work multiple jobs in order to live here have the economic means to participate?
Pauline Cook has the means – or at least, she used to. As the heroine of Catherine O’Connell’s mystery novel, “Well Bred and Dead,” Pauline acts as a window into the wealthiest segment of society – Chicago society, that is. She lives in the penthouse of a 1920s building along the city’s swanky Gold Coast, sleeps on 700-thread count Frette linens and wears suits that cost more than many of us spend on clothes in a year.But Pauline is quickly burning through her late husband’s fortune, and in the beginning of the book discovers her best friend, author Ethan Campbell, dead in his apartment of an apparent suicide. And so the mystery begins – would Ethan really kill himself while wearing a pair of old boxer shorts? And was this dear friend of Pauline’s really who he claimed to be, anyway?This is the second novel from O’Connell, an Aspen resident who serves on the board of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and moderates the foundation’s Tuesday night writers’ group. When I called her to discuss this book, she told me the intriguing back story of how she came up with the plot. It seems that when she published her first book, “Skins,” 14 years ago, she made friends with David Grafton, an author who wrote biographies of wealthy women. Grafton, the sort who was always early for every appointment, didn’t show up for a meeting one day, and when O’Connell called his house, she learned he was dead.In his home, police found various birth certificates, leading his friends and acquaintances to speculate about his past. O’Connell took this actual event and fictionalized it, creating Ethan Campbell, an author who chronicles the lives of society women and Pauline, who discovers his body.
Image is everything in this “high society mystery,” and most of the characters have a secret or two. O’Connell has crafted a mystery novel with clever twists and a good dose of satirical humor. Pauline is the type of woman who shops when the going gets rough, runs in the right circles of all the most powerful rich wives and girlfriends, and notices if you’re using the right fork for each course of your meal. Pauline may not be your best friend, but her glamorous life compels you to follow her journey through the pages.”Well Bred and Dead” is a fast-paced, fun read that’s easy to digest in a weekend. O’Connell says she’s working on “Well Read and Dead,” that will pick up where Pauline Cook leaves off.
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