Written by: Stephen L. Carter
Narrated by: Peter Francis James
Published by: Random House Audio
The Garlands are members of the black upper class, a group that doesn’t seek the limelight and are just as protective of their status and exclusivity as their white counterparts. They also have similar familial structures: a conservative ambitious father, well educated but resentful children, and their share of skeletons and tragedies. For the Garlands, one tragedy was the death of the youngest child, Abby, in an unsolved hit-and-run accident. The second is more public and more scandalous. The head of the family, Oliver Garland, a judge in the Federal Appeals Court, was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest honor for a jurist. But his enemies pounced on him regarding his association with Jack Ziegler, a family friend, former CIA agent, and generally sleazy individual. He withdrew his nomination, went into private practice and became very bitter.
[ad#longpost]When the judge dies of a sudden heart attack, his son Talcott ponders his father and his own life as most people do when a parent dies. Events get odd when Ziegler arrives at the funeral and asks about “the arrangements”. As in many thrillers, Talcott has no clue what he’s talking about. Later he receives a letter posthumously from his father containing obscure clues and a pawn from a chess set. Talcott starts stumbling around trying to solve this mystery and they are many people watching him. But what will they do when he gets to the answers he seeks?
This is the first work of fiction for Stephen Carter, having previously written books on African-American issues from a conservative perspective; he has managed to attract a fair amount of controversy. What he did for The Emperor of Ocean Park was to mix observations of “The Darker Nation” (a phrase that the Talcott character uses constantly) with a standard legal thriller a la Grisham. For the abridgment, it seems that many of these observations were edited out for the sake of the plot. This was a mistake because the thriller aspect of the story is the weaker of the two. We get the usual car chase, the beautiful and mysterious woman, the mano a mano fight climax. The family dynamics, D.C. politics and racial discussions are few and far between. And I feel these must be the more interesting sections of the book.
The reading isn’t very good either. The story is told in first person perspective, but Peter Francis James doesn’t give Talcott much character. In fact, he doesn’t give much vocal variation to the rest of the characters in the story. An audiobook reader should try to give each character his own voice so to speak, using inflection, tone, and accent. James doesn’t do that so the reading suffers. If you’re interested in The Emperor of Ocean Park, get the actual book and skip on the audiobook.