Book Reviews

Book Review: The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille – The Gilded Age in Decline

“I met Frank Bellarosa on a sunny Saturday in April at Hicks’ Nursery…” Long Islanders will know why the very first line in The Gold Coast made me smile. This was the very first of Nelson DeMille’s books I read.  I had never read any of Nelson DeMille’s novels, something that I felt terribly ashamed of once the fact that he graduated from the same high school as I was brought up in a Facebook group centered around my hometown.  I set out to rectify this fact immediately.

For anyone not familiar with Long Island, The Gold Coast is the name for an area of the North Shore of the Island dotted by mansions.  I don’t just mean the kind you see dotting multi-million dollar developments behind the walls in gated communities.  We’re talking about the names Vanderbilt, Astor, Guggenheim, and Roosevelt.  This is the setting where F. Scott Fitzgerald penned and set The Great Gatsby.  Where DeMille and I grew up was not far from here by distance, but in other ways was separated by an impenetrable barrier.

John Sutter lives in this dying world.  It’s dying because the fortunes that once supported these mansions are disappearing, diluted through the years by a variety of factors including inheritance and errant investments.  Although a definite blue-blood, it’s his wife Susan who is the true legacy in this region.  They live in the guest house of what was once her parent’s estate.  Still, they live quite nicely.  Their two children are off getting the necessary private school education.  John is a Wall Street lawyer with a satellite practice nearby.  Susan spends most of her days riding the horse she still keeps in her parents’ stables despite the fact that the estate is up for sale.  Their biggest fear is that it will be sold to developers.

Enter Frank Bellarosa.  Frank is a notorious mob boss whose enterprises are estimated to gross more than half a billion dollars a year.  He buys Alahambra, the run-down estate next to the Sutters that has sat vacant for years.  John doesn’t exactly look down his nose at Frank; he knows the mob boss doesn’t belong among the blue-bloods of the area but at the same time finds the man somewhat fascinating.  At the same time, he is aware enough to be nervous about what he is capable of.

Told in the first person from John Sutter’s perspective, The Gold Coast weaves a tale of woe for the ultra-rich.  DeMille captures details of their lives that ring true, especially to those of us who lived close enough to take drives through their world, looking upon the gluttony of what once was with awe.  I can see the parties that took place in my head and imagine Sutter’s dissatisfaction with what he sees happening around him.  This is mostly a tale of John Sutter as he sees the world he knew crumbling, not that he’s entirely sad to see it go.

At the same time, there are aspects to The Gold Coast that make it seem almost like a thriller.  Although John is not a criminal lawyer, Frank manages to convince him to represent Frank in a murder case.  Despite knowing better, John soon finds himself immersed in Frank’s world.  I read this with the feeling that no good was going to come of all of this but still wanted to see exactly how everything would evolve.  DeMille wrote quite a fascinating tale that kept me guessing in many ways until the end.  The characters were deep and interesting.  The setting was described in great detail, both in actions and landscape.  At times this felt almost like a thriller where I needed to get to the last page to see what happened to everyone.

In the introduction, DeMille stated he set out to write “The Great Gatsby meets The Godfather.”  I’d say he succeeded quite well.  The Gold Coast should be enlightening to a lot of people about how the blue-blood ultra-rich live, even those whose fortunes are in decline.  There’s enough of the truth in this work of fiction to give one pause.

Mr. DeMille, you’ve done Elmont Memorial High School quite proud.

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