Long retired actress, Elspeth “Bryant” Bell, reluctantly attends the fiftieth birthday party of her ex-husband and director Richard Bryant in his posh Los Angeles mansion, along with eight other guests—all wondering why they were invited. The ninth guest is actually Richard’s pet octopus, Persephone, who glides effortlessly around her tank, while watching the party surreally evolve from greetings, drinking, feasting on an unreal glutinous dinner—and ending in the partaking of drugs. Persephone is known as the Greek goddess of the underworld and wife of Hades, and may very well be a harbinger that foreshadows future events.
When the guests are seated for dinner, Richard individually toasts each of them. To Miguel (Montana), my producer, who fights for my dreams and understands my vision (and yet, his most recent endeavor, Dominus, has lost extensive revenue); To Jerry (Debrowski), my beloved long time manager, who has stuck with me, thick and thin (and yet, who was recently fired); To “Tommo” (Thomas Coates), my oldest and dearest friend (and yet, at best have had a multitude of disagreeable confrontations); To Kei (Keiko Nakamura), the one who weaves my ideas into being (actually the oft criticized and intimidated cinematographer); To Charlie ( Charles Pace), the talented young handsome actor at the very start of a dazzling career (the male lead in his recent flop movie); To Sabine (Selmi) a star, an actor and icon (the female lead in the same unsuccessful movie); To “Honey” (Anton Carlisle), my love, who I want to spend every day of the rest of my life (who actually just reunited with his paramour after a stormy past); To Ellie (Elspeth Bell), who raised my wonderful Lillie into a bright young woman (who actually hasn’t spoken to him in a decade, leaving while pregnant after his fortieth birthday party.)
Elspeth slowly awakens the next morning in a chair, and glances over to see Richard immobile on the opposite couch, with his head thrown back, eyes staring upward, and mouth shaped into an ‘O’, with an overwhelming stench of vomit. She approaches him and finds his neck to be cold and pulseless. Then she is aware of the other guests strewn about and slowly awakening with yawns and groans, and the presence of drug paraphernalia next to Richard’s body. It is immediately assumed by all that he died from an overdose, and the police are called.
Study of the security camera footage reveals the catering staff leaving at 10 p.m. and nobody else either entered or exited the property until the arrival of the police at 9:05 the following morning. Soon after, the forensic examination reveals startling results: wounds running along the inside of his throat which seem to be caused by a long blunt object. His death was caused by suffocation and not overdose.
In the weeks that follow, each guest is interrogated, some multiple times, each appears under suspicion. Tess Little crafts a masterful, slow-burn psychological treatise that unfolds into a twisted and complex study of emotion, confrontation, and systemic abuse of power. The dark character and interpersonal relationships of Richard comes to the fore, with those around him dissected in vivid detail. Richard was an expert at goading those around him into anger, and was not bashful about badgering, belittling, and intimidating. Apparently everyone has a reason to snuff out his life.
Tess Little expertly layers evidence, while weaving red herrings into the fabric of her narrative.
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House / Ballantine Publishing Group for providing an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.