Stephen L. Carter's new book is a work of fiction. Carter is well known for a series of non-fiction boks examining public policy, the law, and American society. I've read and own a copy of The Culture of Disbelief, his treatise on the banishment of religion from public policy discourse in America. According to the acknowledgments in the book, Carter has been working on this novel for years. It shows. This is a well-crafted mystery novel, and one of the first to be set among a predominantly wealthy black society.
Talcott "Misha" Garland is a professor of law. When his father, an erstwhile Supreme Court nominee and former appeals court judge, dies unexpectedly, the beginnings of a plot are revealed. People begin to ask Garland for
the arrangements, something of which Garland is wholly unaware. He hasn't been particularly close to his father. Mysterious people follow him. He suspects his wife of having an affair. His sister comes up with the wildest conspiracy theories. And the enigmatic Jack Ziegler promises to protect Garland and his family in return for the arrangements. Only Jack Ziegler is an underworld figure, and cannot be trusted.
Okay, that doesn't really explain much of the plot. It would be hard. I think the book is a promising start for Carter's fiction career, but it has some big holes. Namely, the entire book swarms around an elaborate conspiracy. Elaborate conspiracies are hard to hold together. And few people ever try elaborate conspiracies. Most conspiracies I know about are simple. I dislike complexity in my mystery plots. I do not like a web of intrigue much. Luckily, the web does not become paramount until late in the book.
However, Carter makes up for it with his characters. All are well-formed, and all are nutty, some extremely so. Garland is a reserved professor of law. He strives to maintain that reserve at almost all costs. I don't have the words necessary to write much more unfortunately.
Two other things of note. The book is long. Around 650 pages. The books would have been helped by more generous use of the delete key. Second thing is that the book is primarily written in first person present tense. Most things I read are written in third person past, and sometimes in third person past. The first person present gives the book a much more immediate and ominous feel.