“Delightful . . . a suspenseful romp . . . highly recommended.”—Booklist
At the request of his father, New York City novelist Andrew Thale tackles an odd assignment—to check out an old family property in Massachusetts, neglected since Aunt Harriet Thale’s death years ago. But far from being deserted, Thale’s Folly, as Andrew discovers, is fully inhabited—by a quartet of charming squatters, former “guests” of kindhearted Harriet. There is elegant Miss L’Hommedieu, Gussie the witch, Leo the bibliophile, and beautiful Tarragon, who is unlike any girl Andrew has ever met in Manhattan.
Andrew is entranced by these unworldly creatures and their simple life. Yet all is not well in Thale’s Folly. A thief breaks into the farmhouse, an old friend of the “family” disappears, and Andrew and Tarragon are drawn into mysteries they cannot fathom. . . .
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Andrew was bored. He was also—as usual—depressed. About the uncertainties of his future. About this idiotic reentry into his father's world, and certainly about this party he'd been forced to attend. It was the usual corporate affair, but with a number of faux bohemians thrown in, obviously out of a misguided effort to prove how broad-minded the company could be because the party was being held in honor of an author. Xavier Saabo's book was entitled The Zen of Machinery—the word Zen was big these days—and he was here because in his book he'd said very nice things about Meredith Machines, Inc., and Andrew's father was a vice president of Meredith Machines, Inc.
Which was why Andrew was present—under duress, as usual.
At the moment, with some irony, Andrew was noticing how carefully Xavier ignored the cluster of SoHo guests who had been invited expressly for him. What no one had foreseen, of course—Andrew understood this perfectly—was that the less affluent contingent were looking upon Xavier with contempt because he had joined the philistines, and Xavier was regarding them with contempt because he had long since exchanged his low-rent loft for an apartment on Park Avenue.
These musings on the creative life—of which Andrew had once been a member—were diverted when he saw that Jennifer Tallant had arrived, looking positively seductive in a black silk sheath. In his several years of college, they had seen rather a lot of each other until he realized that Jennifer assumed his ambition was to become a corporate VP like his father. He was glad now to see that she was escorted to the party by Charlie Drumm, who would very definitely become a VP, if not president of his own company, given time, and Andrew was thinking kind and charitable thoughts about her when his father suddenly appeared: tall, fit, silver-haired, and important. Authoritative, too.
"Andrew," he said sternly, "you're not mingling."
"You mean merging, don't you?" quipped Andrew, since Meredith Machines was in the process of an important merger with PGH Plastics, Inc.
His father was not amused. "Mingle," he said, and turned away to continue his own mingling.
He and his father had already quarreled earlier in the day. Summoning Andrew from his cubicle in the nether regions of the company, where he wrote copy for the Meredith Newsletter, also under duress, his father had announced that today was Friday.
"I've noticed," Andrew said warily.
"I've an assignment for you, Andrew," he told him.
"Family?" This had puzzled Andrew, for there had not been much family since his mother had left his father seven years ago. There had never been an explanation for this; once upon a time Andrew had assumed that she must have been unfaithful, but now that he knew his father better he thought she need only have found him as much of a machine as those that Meredith produced. What made this difficult for Andrew to understand was that he'd been told that in his youth his father had been a guitar-playing political activist, leading protest marches and working for civil rights, yet somewhere along the way he'd traded those values for profit margins, sales figures, acquisitions, competition, and bottom lines. It was possible at times to feel sorry for him, but not today.
He said again, "Family?"
"Yes, I want you to look into property left me by my aunt Harriet Thale. It's in western Massachusetts, about a four-hour drive from Manhattan, and you should be able to wrap it up in a day."
Andrew struggled to remember who this relative could be whom he'd certainly never met. "An aunt Harriet Thale?" he repeated, frowning. "But she died all of five years ago, didn't she? Why this sudden interest now in the property?"
"Because," his father said patiently, "I've been paying taxes on one very empty old house surrounded by twenty-five acres, and I've been too busy with the merger to look into it. It's time a decision is made."
"You can't expect me—"
"—to make a decision?" His tone implied that he found his son incapable of any business decision at all. "Of course not. From you I ask for an assessment of what's there. A description. The property's in a godforsaken area, distant from any tourist attractions, but it's time to establish its value so I can decide whether to sell, hold, or whether those twenty-five acres could be developed. Take a camera. It's miles from nowhere but it's time to learn precisely what the situation is."
"Miles from nowhere," Andrew repeated, and suddenly grinned. "I remember now, it was called Thale's Folly! She was the recluse of the family, wasn't she? The family eccentric?"
"She was an embarrassment to us all," snapped his father. "I suppose you think that's amusing."
"I think it's very amusing," Andrew said. " I wish I'd met her. The house is empty?"
"Of course it's empty," growled his father. "You can borrow a company car and leave early tomorrow morning—"
"Tomorrow! You mean Saturday?" His father knew very well how precious his two days of freedom were to him.
"—and on your way out my secretary will give you a survey map of Tottsville, the deed describing its boundaries, and directions to Thale's Folly."
Andrew could not help but feel this ridiculous assignment was being presented to him as a subtle form of punishment. His father had patiently seen him through those first days following what he referred to as "Andrew's unfortunate incident"—which did not quite do justice to Andrew's waking up nights in a cold sweat, or the absence of concentration that kept him from what he loved best and had assumed would be his life's work—but he failed to understand why Andrew couldn't simply get on with things now.
In a word, he was taking too long to recover.
Which of course was a perfectly rational viewpoint. As he returned to his dull work of writing copy for the company newsletter Andrew found himself devoutly wishing for a—well, what?
For a less rational world, he thought.
He was to get one.