Friday, September 21, 2018

Poker-faced

Looking south from the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 9:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, September 21, 2018. Cooler and cloudy, yesterday in New York, with temps in the high 60s, low 70s. No humidity, no rain. Tomorrow is the autumnal equinox, the first day of autumn, which begins officially in my neighborhood at six minutes before 10 PM. On this day both the Northern and Southern hemispheres will experience an equal amount of daylight. And then, after that, we get lessening daylight waiting for winter.

Books and books. Last Saturday I was sent the galleys of Jane Stanton Hitchcock’s new novel “Bluff” which is due out in January. Jane and I have known each other for a long time. I live in her old neighborhood (she now lives mainly in DC). She grew up in 10 Gracie around the corner from me, and went to Brearley around the other corner.

Hers was what you would call a privileged upbringing. Jane was brought up “steppin’ in society” in New York. Her father was a tycoon, her mother was an actress who knew “everybody” and entertained them all wall to wall. Which is quite an education for a witty, curious girl.

I admire her work. She’s naturally smart, sensitive and perceptive. She’s also prolific: six novels, three plays and a couple of films. All that and she continues to have a wide array of friends and acquaintances. She’s a person who likes people to the point where one might conclude she’s “naïve,” which she is not. Not at all.

I’m not much of a novel reader, although I do occasionally if it’s related to something that arouses my curiosity. So when the galleys arrived in Saturday’s mail, I put it just to the right of me at my desk – the priority pile. Although in truth that doesn’t mean it would get priority, or even attention -- because I am a procrastinator by birth.

Saturday night I went out to dinner with old friends. I got home about 10:30, gave the dogs their late night snack and took them out for a quick “walkies” to the corner and back. Finishing my nightly canine butlering, I returned to my desk and glancing at the cover of “Bluff” I picked it up out of what you could call polite curiosity, since I had absolutely no intention of reading a word of it at that hour. I needed the sleep.

Nevertheless I opened it to the first page, as if acknowledging the accomplishment of my friend by “looking” it over. (But not reading; it was already 11:30 PM.) The publisher is Poisoned Pen Press in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was surprised. Blair Sabol lives in Scottsdale. Not that it matters, except I think of Scottsdale as one of those places that are fancy suburbs in the Sun. I didn’t know there was a book publisher there too. (Although I can’t say why there shouldn’t be.) I later learned from Jane that Poisoned Pen’s one of the biggest mystery bookstores in the country. And now they publish some too.
"The queen of both writing and poker," Jane Hitchcock.
I turn to the next page. It’s titled “Praise for Jane Stanton Hitchcock.” The first praiser is Susan Cheever (“New York Times best-selling author.” Susan is a friend of mine and Jane’s. She wrote: Bluff  is a vivid, compelling novel about deceit, seduction, and delicious revenge that will keep you spellbound and cheering as you turn the last page.”

Wow; no? Except book blurbs are meant to be gracious and praising, no? And a friend isn’t going to write “it’s “awful, horrible, waste of time!”  Although Susan is always honest with her words ... (right Susan?)

Then came Linda Fairstein, the 21st Century American Agatha Christie with her Alexandra Cooper Series. She wrote: “Jane Hitchcock pulls off another stunning tour de force in her newest crime novel, Bluff. Nobody writes high society and its down-low denizens better than Hitchcock, and this book is her best yet ...”
Linda Fairstein signing "Killer Look" at The Poisoned Pen in 2016.
Linda’s a friend of mine too. Like Susan she’s smart and forthright. I know her assessments are not buttered and sugared; this is the way she really sees it. However, like I said: book blurbs?

Hmm, Then a woman I don’t know, Linda Kenny Baden (“an attorney, legal commentator, and author”) wrote: “Jane Stanton Hitchcock’s ‘Bluff’ is the royal flush of suspense novels! The queen of both writing and poker aces it again.”

Barbara Peters has been editor-in-chief at Poisoned Pen Press since its inception in 1998.  She is also the owner and founder of The Poisoned Pen – A Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.
That made me turn to the following page, (although I’m still not going to get into it at this hour), written by Barbara Peters, CEO of Poisoned Pen Publishers and bookstores. In it she tells you all about Jane’s life and career and what prompted or inspired this new book. I skimmed it to get to the next page; compulsive curiosity was overtaking me.

Then the next page is something you don’t see in the book you actually buy: it’s info for publicity, items, selling points, audience, along with an author bio. The Sales Handle is for “Bluff” reads as follows:

“One-time socialite Maud Warner polishes up the rags of her once glittering existence and bluffs her way into a signature New York restaurant. When she shoots Sun Sunderland, the ‘Pope of Finance,’ as he lunches with “accountant to the stars” Burt Sklar – the man she’s accused for years of stealing her mother’s fortune and leaving her family in ruins – she deals the first card in her high-stakes plan for revenge.”

Maud sounds a little like Jane (minus the gun-totin’). Including the bit about her mother’s fortune.

Okay. It is now midnight (Sunday morning), and I turn the page again. I happen to know that Jane is also a major poker player. She took it up a number of years ago after finishing another of her novels. I was surprised at the time because you never think of women playing poker. My father played until he lost and had to run for his life which of course affected deeply the lives of everyone around him, so I also pretty much saw the game through cracked and jagged lens. Like: stay AWAY.

Nevertheless, Jane is very intelligent and quite self-reliantly sensible. I did tell her about my father when I first learned of her interest. It was really none of my business but I wanted to warn her about what could happen in that business. For it is a business.
Jane — poker-faced.
With all this in mind, including the hour and what the morning would have waiting for me in the way of deadlines, I read the first sentence:

“Death is colorful in the fall. The trees in Central Park bristle with red and gold leaves, like a beautiful dawn before the dark of winter.”

She continues:

“On this crisp, sunny October day in New York, I’m all dressed up for a lunch to which I’m definitely not invited. I want to look my very best.”

Now if you know Jane, you know this is something you might hear her say if she’s about to tell you some incredible story about something that happened to her.

So I turned the page again. The first chapter was two pages. Easy; turn to the next. Only three. And then another two and three and four. And then the pages were turning faster. And faster!
Showcasing her patience.
By 2:30 I was on page 190 (book 247 pp) and as much as I felt compelled, I decided to leave the book open, turn off the light, and go to bed. I knew if I finished it, I wouldn’t go right to sleep. This book is a movie that you cannot stop watching even if you have to go to the bathroom badly. It’s that bad good!

I got up Sunday morning about 10:30 and went right back to my desk. I finished it at noon. It’s a tour de force.  It really is an achievement. It’s about many things and of course New York is many things.

It is a page-turner. There are three major women’s roles (if you’re a producer looking for a hot story), and it’s many other things about life among the rich, the chic and the shameless. And America today. Yes, that too. I’d love to tell you the whole story but Jane’s version is the only one you should hear.  It’ll be out right after the turn of the year.

My suggestion, pre-order now!
 

Contact DPC here.