A vindictive multibillionairess tries to suppress a seasoned raconteur’s lust for life, not to mention his tell-all new novel, in this posthumous roman à clef by Dunne, who died of cancer in August 2009.
Dunne’s narrator (and alter ego) Augustus Bailey writes for glossy gossip magazine Park Avenue and pens bestselling novels and “true crime” starring the globe’s most glittering grandees. A born confidante, “Gus” attracts secrets like Beluga draws partygoers, but he can be a blabbermouth. On the radio, he blithely blurts a preposterous rumor implicating Congressman Kyle Cramden in the disappearance of Cramden’s lovely intern, provoking an $11 million slander lawsuit. Gus, 84, fears the litigation will bankrupt the estate he hopes to leave his children. His only hope is Infamous Lady, his novel-in-progress, which dredges up the nagging questions still surrounding the death of ALS-afflicted superbanker Konstantin Zacharias in a fire at his Biarritz villa. Zacharias’ widow Perla was never a suspect, and she’d like to keep it that way. Now the third richest woman in the world, Perla has the “too much money” of the title: enough to eliminate any threats to her reputation by far less civil means than lawsuits. Like having Gus tailed by a man in gray flannel, pressuring his publisher to scuttle Infamous Lady and digging up a bogus allegation of pederasty to blackmail Gus into settling the Cramden suit. Stress dampens Gus’s joie de vivre, and he’s no longer everyone’s favorite bavardeur at society functions peopled by disinherited socialites, ex-convict financiers, centenarian doyennes and declassée divas. Gus’s dilemmas find too-easy solutions, because Gus, as did, perhaps, his creator, realizes that imminent mortality trivializes one’s worst fears, that life is too short not to speak truth to power, and that he’ll be somewhere money and revenge can’t reach when his last novel comes out.
On full display here, Dunne’s (Another City, Not My Own, 1997, etc.) jaded eye for the foibles of the ultraspoiled, his stylish wit and eavesdropper’s ear—they are among the many reasons he is sorely missed.