In a wistful flashback, a young journalist falls in love with a mysterious heiress who's never left the grounds of her father's six-acre Bel Air estate.
The Hollywood novel is a seductive thing—it allows readers to luxuriate in excess while maintaining the moral high ground. In this go-round, Thomas Cleary, a low-level Los Angeles Times reporter, is sent to interview Lily Goldman for an obituary on her father, Joel, an Old Hollywood studio head. At an informal dinner party she invites him to attend, Thomas finds a veritable who's who of Los Angeles media moguls: record-label owner George Bloom and his flamboyant wife, Emma; Carole Partridge, the world's most famous actress, and Charles, her valet/husband. Most notable is David Duplaine, a media titan and Joel's former protégé. They all like Thomas, a handsome, working-class kid who made it to Harvard, and the members of the group (which seems a bit like a secret coven) take it upon themselves to elevate his career. They invite him to a fundraiser at the Duplaine estate, but a mix-up ensues, and while everyone else is in Malibu, Thomas stumbles upon the estate's hidden tennis court and finds a beautiful young woman there. The more the two talk, the odder the conversation becomes. Matilda is at once brilliant and childlike; she's coy yet carries herself with a sense of entitlement. She says she's David Duplaine's daughter, that she has no memory of her mother, and that though her every whim is satisfied, she has never left the estate. The old butler helps arrange their secret assignations, but it's clear Matilda must leave home if they're going to keep seeing each other, so Lily arranges for them to fly to Hawaii and stay at her father's old compound. They're in paradise, but the journalist in Thomas pushes him to ask questions he shouldn't. He uncovers the sordid details of this strange Hollywood tale, and inevitably, the truth turns to tragedy.
The novel is wonderfully appealing, both romantic and moody—reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier.