The affluent shores of Long Island were once the wealthiest real estate in America. After the stock market crash of 1929, much of the area was dissected and sold off piece by piece. The Gold Coast of the early 1990s was struggling to hold on to the few grand estates and to an era long gone by.
John Sutter is your stereotypical WASP New York lawyer, living in the guest house of his in-laws’ 200-acre estate, known as Stanhope Hall, in the shadow of the massive fifty-room mansion his wife, Susan, grew up in. Susan has been deeded the more modest fifteen-room guesthouse and ten acres as a wedding present the day she and John were married. The rest of the estate is up for sale with the provision that the Allards, lifetime servants of the Stanhopes, can live in the gatehouse for the rest of their lives. However, neither the gates nor the Allards can keep out the poison that will creep onto Stanhope Hall.
The estate next door was also for sale, but now has a new owner. John first meets his new neighbor at the nursery while he is buying flowers and his new neighbor is buying tomato plants and eggplants. As the standing joke in the novel suggests, “There goes the neighborhood!” Frank Bellarosa is a celebrity of sorts and cash to buy the place was never an issue. However, he is not exactly what the auspicious neighbors with their old money, old families, and social graces have been looking for. Frank Bellarosa is the Mafia don of the largest crime family in America. And he is wanted for murder.
In spite of John’s country club lifestyle or his imaginative, and sometimes kinky, red-headed beauty of a wife, John is bored. He is bored with the old Manhattan clients retaining him to handle their stocks or to find ways to avoid their taxes. He is bored with his Long Island Locust Valley clientele who seem mostly concerned with whom to disinherit this week for this offense or that. But when Frank “the Bishop” asks him to represent him on his murder charge, John knows he is out of his league. He resolutely swears he is not going to handle the case. Circumstances seem to occur beyond his control that put him constantly in the debt of his ominous neighbor, and he gets drawn deeper and deeper into the web. Eventually, taking on the Mafia don as his client, he bites off more than he can chew. John finds that, not only is he now Frank’s attorney, he is now his paesano. Suddenly, John and Susan are having dinner at “the Club” with Mr. and Mrs. Bellarosa, much to the chagrin of the blue blood exclusive members. To further complicate an already explosive situation, Susan is infatuated with this dangerous and sexy Italian neighbor.
Can John Sutter win the case against Frank and get him acquitted? Does he believe in his client’s innocence, or does he feel he would do the world a favor if he were convicted? What price does John pay in his career, and in his marriage, for linking himself with a known crime family?
The novel will keep you enthralled clear to the end. And when you wash your hands of it and think, “Well, that’s it,” DeMille will draw you back in with his sequel, The Gate House. If you still have not had enough thrills, try his many other books, or pick up his newest book, just released in June of 2010, The Lion. As for me, I’ll get back to you on that one. Capisce?