Margaret's Harbor, a small, exclusive island off the coast of Massachussets, has been disrupted for weeks by the antics of a group of young celebrities. Kendra Rhode, of the extremely wealthy Rhode family, is the ring leader and part-year resident on the island. Two of her cohorts, Arrow Normand, an aging teen pop idol, and Marcey Mandret, another of the same vintage, have been acting out publicly - drunken, disorderly public behavior eaten up by the press. During one of the most devastating blizzards in decades, Normand staggers up to a local house, covered in blood and incoherently drunk. Her latest boy toy is found shot dead in the front seat of a crashed truck. The only suspect in the crime is Normand herself and she was apparently far too out of it to remember what actually happened that night.
Former F.B.I. agent Gregor Demarkian, fleeing from the preparations for his own wedding, is hired to review the case against Normand. What he finds is a case with little evidence, twisted by an out-of-control media and the cult of celebrity surrounding the three young women, and a mare's nest of motives, in what may be the most confusing, twisted case of his entire career.
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About the Author
Jane Haddam is the author of numerous novels, most recently Glass Houses. Her work has been a finalist for both the Anthony and Edgar award. She lives in Litchfield County.
JANE HADDAM is the fiction pseudonym of Orania Papazoglou, the author of over thirty novels, most featuring Gregor Demarkian. She was a finalist for both the Edgar and the Anthony Award. The widow of mystery writer William DeAndrea, Haddam died in 2019.
Read an Excerpt
Cheating at Solitaire
A Gregor Demarkian Novel
By Jane Haddam
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
Gregor Demarkian had been born and brought up on Ca-vanaugh Street, and married there when he was in his twenties. He knew everything there was to know about how this place reacted to the expectation of a marriage, right down to the superstitious things the Very Old Ladies would do in the privacy of their living rooms when Father Tibor Kasparian wasn't around to scold them. He had no idea why he had thought things would be different, now, for him. Maybe it was that Cavanaugh Street was so very changed from the way it had been when he had grown up here. There had been a lot of rising tides raising boats in the course of that something-more-than-half-century, and what had started as a cramped blank space of tenements and peeling paint had ended, now, as one of the most upscale gentrified neighborhoods in the city of Philadelphia. The building where Gregor had been born didn't even exist anymore. Howard Kashinian's development company had had it torn down, nearly a decade before Gregor moved back to the street, and replaced it with three four-story brick town houses, each offering a single long apartment on each of its four floors. The disintegrating brown-stone where Lida Kazanjian Arkmanian had been brought up did exist, but the fifteen other families that had lived there were gone, and Lida had bought the place, had it gutted, and turned it into a showplace that had been featured on the cover of Metropolitan Home. It was a different world, with different expectations. These days the wives expected to spend their winter vacations in the Bahamas and the children expected to go to college when their time came — and a good college, too, not just whatever was on offer locally in the community college system. Sheila and Howard Kashinian's daughter Deanna had had a huge, expensive party for her sixteenth birthday that was featured on a televison show called My Super Sweet Sixteen. Elda and Michael Valadanian's son David had just been appointed, at thirty-two, the youngest federal court judge in the history of the Eleventh Circuit. Susan Kasmanian, Hannah Kasmanian's niece, had been accepted to study for a doctorate in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This was not the kind of place that insisted on wrapping up the bride and groom in flower garlands so that widows could spit on them for luck.
Maybe Gregor had simply assumed that all that kind of thing would be ignored because the woman he was marrying was not herself Armenian. In fact, Bennis Hannaford was nearly the polar opposite of Armenian, in spite of the fact that she was eerily small and dark, as if in revolt against generations of tall, pale, blond English ancestors. She was a Hannaford of the Main Line Hannafords. That great pile of a house was still sitting out there, in Bryn Mawr, waiting for her brothers to decide what to do with it. She had come out at the Philadelphia Assemblies. She had graduated from Agnes Irwin and Vassar. She even sounded more like Katharine Hepburn than anybody else Gregor had ever heard. He couldn't imagine anybody thinking she could spit on Bennis for any reason at all, and he had a sneaking suspicion that before she allowed herself to be wrapped in flower garlands, Bennis would insist on being naked.
Still, here he was, on the second of January, months before there was going to be anything like an actual wedding, letting Donna Moradanyan Donahue wrap a tape measure around his head.
"Stop making such a fuss," she said. "I'm the one who should be screaming bloody murder. I've just had a baby."
"That's true," Gregor said. "You should be home with Martha Grace. You should be fighting with your mother-in-law about what church she's going to be baptized into."
"I'm letting Russ fight with his mother," Donna said. "It's counterproductive when I do it. I just need to get the proportions right here. I mean, you don't want your head to be up on Lida's roof looking like Charles Manson or something, do you?"
"I don't want my head up on Lida's roof at all. And you can't claim this is some kind of Armenian tradition, because I know better."
"It's my tradition," Donna said. "Just wait till you see what I do for the wedding. I'm going to cover the entire street. Well, except for the church. Father Tibor —"
"You cannot wrap the church in shiny paper," Tibor said. "It's not respectful."
"I wouldn't think it would even be possible," Gregor said.
"It won't matter," Donna said. "The church will have lots of flowers. We're going to have banks of them going down the stairs straight to the sidewalk. We've got to work on your entrance, though. Usually there are limousines, and that does for ceremony, but with both of you coming from the same street, we'll have to think of something else. Maybe we can work up one of those processions with children, you know, that they have in the villages. I always think those look beautiful."
"That is because you have never had to live in a village," Father Tibor said.
"Here's more coffee," Linda Melajian said, putting the pot down in the middle of the table. "Bennis called to say she's going to be held up at the lawyers this morning, and you're supposed to stop complaining."
Linda Melajian stomped off, and Gregor watched her go. It was nearly noon now, and outside the big plate glass windows of the Ararat Restaurant, Cavanaugh Street looked clean and cold and mostly empty. Donna had finished her measure-ments and wrapped the tape measure around her hand, and she pushed against him a little to give her room to sit down. The remains of the lunches Gregor and Father Tibor had tried to eat were still sitting on the table. Father Tibor never ate much, but Gregor used to, until all this thing with the wedding. Now he'd left a great big stack of grape leaves stuffed with lamb sitting on the plate, and Donna Moradan-yan started picking at them.
Sometimes — and, for some reason, much oftener now — Gregor Demarkian thought that Cavanaugh Street was someplace he had imagined for himself on the worst and darkest days of his life. It wasn't someplace real. He would wake up in an hour or two and find himself still in that awful apartment near the Beltway, the place he had gone to wait for Elizabeth to die. Then he would turn over in bed and look at the numbers on the clock he had always set for five, so that he could be at the hospital before she woke up, if she woke up. Day after day, week after week, for almost a year, with nothing else to think about, and nothing else in his life. It was when he had first realized that he was not good at making friends or keeping them. He was too closed in on himself, and for all the time between the day he had married Elizabeth and the day she had died, he had lived as if they were the only two people in the world. Work didn't count. Work was something he was good at, but when he walked away from it, it was as if it had never been.
Now he was here in the Ararat, and all the people around him were his friends. They worried about what he did and didn't eat, how his relationship with Bennis was going and why it was going that way, what his work was doing to him, whether he was doing too much of it, whether he was doing too little of it. It would have shocked the hell out of most of them to be told that he was a "closed-off" kind of person, but he thought he was. He was just better at hiding it, or better at hiding the defense mechanisms that could signal its existence.
He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked around. Father Ti-bor was looking worried, which might or might not have meant anything in particular. Father Tibor was five years younger than Gregor and looked at least a decade older. He'd spent most of his youth and middle age in Soviet prisons of one kind or another.
"I'm okay. Kind of tired, that's all."
"Are you upset about the ceremony?" Tibor asked. "I'm not sure what to do about it. On the one hand, you and Ben-nis are my closest friends, and I am certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to perform marriages. On the other hand —" He threw his hands in the air. "I am not an unsophisticated man, Krekor. I know that not everyone who comes to the altar truly believes, and the world is full of hypocrites. But."
"Yes," Gregor said. "But."
"She is not the sort of woman who thrives on compromise, is she, Krekor? It's really all we need here, a little compromise. A little pro forma. I do not pretend that the questions involved are not serious. They're very serious. But in this case, for the purposes of a wedding, maybe not so much. I don't understand why I can't make her see that."
"Don't look at me," Gregor said. "I can't make her see anything. I've been trying for years."
"It is just a matter of pro forma," Tibor said again. "It is a matter of satisfying the forms when you cannot satisfy the substance. If we don't do that, I will have a problem with the archdiocese. I might be able to get away with it if the whole thing could be done in privacy, but you know there will be no privacy. You are not a private person. She is not a private person."
"Also, she can't sit back and shut up to save her life," Donna said.
The two of them turned around and looked at her, a little surprised to find that she was still there. Donna Moradanyan Donahue was as tall and fair as Bennis should have been, as if the two of them had been switched at birth, except that Donna was fifteen years younger. Having been released from the dietary strictures of pregnancy, she seemed to be mainlining caffeine in the form of thick Armenian coffee, right through the middle of the day. She drained the cup she had now and pushed it away from her, beginning to gather up her things.
"Look," she said, "this is just not going to work. If you sit around here for the next five months doing nothing but worrying at all this stuff, there isn't going to be any wedding, and then the women on this street are going to form a posse and kill both of you. You and Bennis, I mean, not you, Father. Never mind. Gregor, just make some sense, will you please? Go find yourself some work to do. Get yourself off the street for a while. Bennis has a book tour in February and early March — you can come back then. Then Russ and I can put her up for April and the first part of May, and —"
"You do realize how ridiculous it is," Gregor said. "Ben-nis going to stay with you as if we hadn't been living together for years."
"Just get out of here," Donna said. "You're twitchier than she is, and she's twitchy enough for an overpopulated séance. There's got to be some police force in the country that has a murder they don't know what to do with. Maybe the Bureau has a convention or something that you could go to."
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation does not hold conventions."
"whatever. Get out of here. Do something sensible. Let us take care of all the arrangements."
"With you taking care of the arrangements, this is going to resemble a story out of the Arabian Nights."
Donna had all her stuff in her bag, sort of. She'd left the top unzippered and things that looked like black ribbons spilling out. She slung it over her shoulder and reached for her coat on the coatrack next to the booth. "Do something with yourself," she said. And then she stomped her way out of the plate glass front door and onto the street.
Everybody seemed to be stomping today. Gregor thought that that must mean something, but he wasn't sure what. Ti-bor was sitting quietly over an empty plate that had once had big piles of lamb casserole on it, and the other diners, almost all of them people Gregor knew, were paying no attention to him. Everybody was stomping, and he was stomping too, and the reason was nowhere near as simple as "getting cold feet" about the wedding or being put off because, as things stood now, it looked as if they wouldn't be able to hold it in church.
"You know," he said to Tibor, "I'm really not getting cold feet about the wedding. Sometimes I worry that Bennis might be, but I'm not."
"I didn't think you were," Tibor said.
"I've wanted this wedding since the year I met her," Gregor said. "I didn't even realize it, in the beginning. She was, I don't know, not the sort of person I thought that sort of thing about, if there was any sort of person I thought that sort of thing about with Elizabeth dead just a year. But I did think it, unconsciously, if that makes sense."
"Of course it makes sense."
"I just wish it wasn't such an enormous event. There's something about the fuss that's making me crazy. I tell myself I'm worried that it's making her crazy, and that it's going to make her back off, but I know that's not the truth. She thrives on this stuff. I had no idea she could get this involved in planning something."
"Most women like to plan their weddings, Krekor. It's normal."
"I know it's normal. She isn't normal. She's never been normal."
"Tcha. You're playing with words."
"I need to take a walk," Gregor said. "Is that rude? I don't want to be rude to you. I just need to take a walk."
"Take your walk," Tibor said.
Gregor had no idea if he was offended or not. He had no idea what the population of the Ararat would think about him going off and leaving Tibor alone at the table. He had only the vaguest idea what he wanted to do. Still, walking was a good idea, and he knew where he could walk to.
It wasn't really a walk Gregor needed to go on. Even when he'd been much younger, it would have taken him hours to walk where he wanted to go. It helped, of course, that he was not admitting that there was somewhere he did want to go. It had been on his mind for days; he just hadn't brought it to the surface. It was odd how things worked out sometimes. When he had first left Philadelphia, he had never expected to come back, or at least never expected to come back to Cavanaugh Street. But it wasn't just the street. D.C. was a different place, a better place, as he saw it then. It was the place where he had built a reputation and a career among people whose opinions mattered in more than a local sense. Gregor was not a sentimentalist. He was not a fan of movies like It's a Wonderful Life that pushed the line that the great wide world was nothing but flash and ashes, and everything meaningful was to be found at home. It had been good for him to get out of what Cavanaugh Street had been when he was living there. It had been good for him to get away from family and the familiar. There was a big world out there and people made contributions in it, contributions that helped everyone everywhere. He was, he thought, making a hash of it in his own head, but the basic meaning of it all was perfectly clear to him. He liked Cavanaugh Street. He liked the people he knew there, and he liked the fact that he had known many of them for so long that they shared history in a way that would never be possible with new acquaintances. There was something to be said for having someone for whom the assassination of John F. Kennedy was the thing that happened the day after old Father Mardun Destinian had been discovered half naked with Mrs. Machanian. There was also something to be said for having someone for whom the assassination of John F. Kennedy was just the assassination of John F. Kennedy, one of those things that linked a generation, like 9/11 would link the one coming up through the public schools now.
Gregor stopped, and looked around, and realized that he was a good five blocks away from home, and not on a straight line, either. If he had been investigating his own behavior, he would have surmised that he was deliberately attempting to hide his activities from the people he lived with. Maybe that was true. He couldn't stop himself from feeling relieved that no one from Cavanaugh Street would see him hailing this cab, or hear where he asked it to go. There was something else he missed, more than a little, about his life in Washington. There was no privacy on Cavanaugh Street. There never had been. There never would be. It went against the grain of the kind of place it was.
The first cab that deigned to notice him pulled up to the curb in front of him with a squeal of tires: not a good sign. Gregor swallowed the urge to tell the cabbie he'd changed his mind and got into the backseat, folding himself up like an oversized Murphy bed. Cabs always made him feel the full extent of his height. He slammed the door after him and doublechecked to make sure he hadn't forgotten his wallet, or had it lifted while he'd been walking and paying no attention to anything around him. Then he leaned forward and told the driver, "Christ the Redeemer Armenian Cemetery."
Excerpted from Cheating at Solitaire by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 2008 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“Ought to establish Haddam as America’s P.D. James once and for all.”—Baltimore Sun
“A stellar whodunit.”—Publishers Weekly
“Cheating at Solitaire has a sharply satirical edge as it takes on the cult of celebrity.”—Boston Globe
“A sly…indictment of the cult of celebrity. Read this and liberate yourself from Page Six and TMZ.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Haddam is at her best…presenting a glimpse into the celebrity world readers will not easily forget.”—Library Journal
“[This] series keeps getting better, each novel just a little more dramatic, more thought provoking, and more entertaining than the last...It's about time she gets the A-list status she so richly deserves.”—Booklist
“Haddam is clearly having a good time skewering the obsession with aging teen starlets and their hangers-on.”—Charlotte Observer
“More compelling than most mysteries, Cheating at Solitaire manages a good sense of humor and tight, sharp writing. Haddam lets us ponder celebrity and its meaning, the powerful symbiosis between stars and the public, and our own complicity in the frenzy.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer