cover image Manor House

Manor House

Bob Greene, Paige Rense. Doubleday Books, $22.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48502-9

Longtime Architectural Digest editor Rense's frothy debut novel is an uninspired murder mystery gilded with a steady steam of interior design-world minutiae. When Beau Paxton, editor-in-chief of the absurdly exclusive Manor House magazine, is shot to death outside Le Club, a tony West Los Angeles watering hole, the list of possible suspects is longer than a decorator's tape measure. Every interior designer who ever had work rejected by the magazine wanted him dead. So, too, did long-suffering managing editor, Meg Millar, the magazine's owners, twin brothers Seth and Jonas Rupert, and the sinister Fred Hawkins, a conspicuous spender who wants to buy Manor House and make his Argentine bombshell trophy wife the editor. Stepping in to find the killer are Santa Barbara's Pierpont Tree III, private eye and wealthy recluse, and his girlfriend, retired movie star and recovering alcoholic China Carlyle. Feebly imitating Nick and Nora Charles (minus the cocktails), Pier and China sleuth their way through the lifestyles of the rich and idle, encountering moguls who buy estates just to house their cars, people for whom shopping is a form of meditation and a client who mourns her dearly departed decorator by transforming her patio barbecue pit into an eternal flame. There are entertaining asides on the magazine business and the decorating demimonde, but the plot seems lifted from an elaborate game of Clue, and the denouement falls flat. Lavish interiors are the real star of the show here, described in excruciating detail right down to the last needlepoint pillow-fitting in a book which, like its protagonists and villains, pays more attention to objets than to character. (Apr.)