Aspen, Colorado. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? We lived in Colorado back in the ’80’s and visited there a couple of times. It was breathtaking. Of course, being one of the very few Colorado residents who didn’t ski, we didn’t go in the snow, but took the trip in summer to enjoy the view and the mountains.
It was a lovely place, but outrageously expensive even back then. I expect it’s gotten even more so as more and more of the world’s extremely wealthy people have sought out the area. It’s that wealth that is at the center of the latest book I’ve read, White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux. In this novel, Aspen is really a minor backdrop for the story. There is some reference to the snow and the wealth as well as the beauty of the area, but no real descriptions. It isn’t really important to the book, but I still enjoyed reading something that took me back to our years of living out west and reminded me of how different the landscape is to the deep south which is where I live.
The book itself is one I would recommend to anyone who likes a relatively fast-paced mystery that is a combination murder mystery, suspense book. It was easy to read, well written, and hard to put down. Here’s my review.
A combination of psychological suspense and murder mystery, WHITE ELEPHANT by Trish Harnetiaux is a fast moving novel that keeps you wanting to read at least one more chapter every time you start to put it down. The story is told rotating among the points of view of three principals; Claudine, Zara, and Henry. A fourth point of view punctuates some of the story, although the reader doesn’t know until the end of the book who this person is. Each chapter is clearly labeled so it is easy to follow whose point of view is being read at any particular moment.
From the beginning of the book, the reader is told there has been a murder. The details of the murder and how the individuals in the book relate to it is slowly revealed as the story progresses through their narratives. It is a unique approach that lends itself well to the short chapters which tend to help the reader move more rapidly through the book.
Claudine is a driven real estate salesperson who, years ago formed a company with her architect husband Henry in Aspen, Colorado. For years they were phenomenally successful, selling properties to the A-list Hollywood elite who “discovered” Aspen. Henry designed gorgeous, unique homes and Claudine sold them to those who could afford the sky-high price tags. Now, after years of success, they are having difficulty selling properties as Henry’s physical and emotional health has declined. Claudine is desperate to find one big sale that will put their company back on top and allow her to continue living a lavish lifestyle. Henry is driven by his love for Claudine which compels him to do whatever she asks. Zara is the latest client for Claudine, a fabulously wealthy rock star to whom Claudine wants to sell the first home Henry designed.
The plan hatched by Claudine requires her to throw an elaborate holiday party at the mansion that is for sale, never mind that the company can no longer afford these parties. There are clearly events that took place at the mansion which Henry wants to forget, and he has to be coerced into attending the party. If he had his way, they would close the business and move away from Aspen all together. Recognizing that Claudine needs this sale, he agrees to her plan, thinking that this one last successful transaction will give them enough to start a new life.
Zara has recently broken up with her boyfriend who is fascinated by true crime stories, particularly those that have gone unsolved. Through this fascination, Zara has learned of the scandal revolving around Claudine Longet and Spider Sabich. Being captivated by the Claudine Longet story and thinking a remote location to have for writing her songs would be idea, Zara contacts Claudine and comes to Aspen to view the property for sale.
Over the years, Claudine has been famous for a gift exchange she has had annually at her Christmas party which has been called a “white elephant” exchange. It started out with people bringing a gag gift of some sort, but has morphed into a competition as the participants try to “one up” each other’s gifts. This year, someone has slipped in a gift that has hidden significance and the opening of it leads to long ago truths finally surfacing and an unexpected party finale.
A good book that pulls you through from the beginning to the end, the only flaw for me was I had a little difficulty intially getting into it. Once I was comfortable with the method of telling the story and as the different threads began to intertwine my interest grew until it got to the point I didn’t want to put the book down. If you are planning on reading the book, I would advise not reading the publisher’s blurb about it. I believe the story works best if you have no expectations or information about the principal characters. My thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing me with an Advance Digital Read copy in exchange for an unbiased review.
I hope I’ve whetted your interest in this book.It’s due to be published on October 29, 2019 so that gives you time to order it from your independent bookseller, Amazon, or wherever you buy books. If you prefer your library, ask them to order it so you can get on that list. It’s one I think is worthy of putting high on your “to be read” list. In any event, happy reading.