Excerpt from Windhall by Ava Barry, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Ava Barry

Windhall by Ava Barry X
Windhall by Ava Barry
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 368 pages

    Jan 2022, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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Print Excerpt


I dreamed of that night a hundred times. The gates of Windhall thrown open to greet a procession of ghostly cars, dazzling apparitions gliding up the drive. The garden, filled with deadly flowers and orange blossoms, the night sky a bowl of stars. And Windhall itself, blazing with light, all the windows thrown open to the summer air.

Most of all, I dreamed of Eleanor. She arrived late to the party that night, hours after the band had switched from lively swing to something sweet and melancholy. There wouldn't be very many details of that night that the papers missed, since the host was one of the most famous people in Hollywood. Reporters would obsess over the attire, the music, the guest list. I had seen hundreds of pictures of the attendees, the giddy starlets and men in their tuxedos, eyes bright with alcohol and opportunity. They had always reminded me of the doomed aristocrats in some wicked fairy tale, all those gods gathered in one place, unaware that one of their own would shortly be killed.

There were no neighbors around Windhall that year. A decade before, in the 1930s, that part of Los Angeles was still sleepy orchards and farmland dotted with health clinics. Pale young women had wandered in the dusty California sunlight, bruises blooming against their milky skin. There had been more invalids than movie stars, with tuberculosis and polio patients coming out to the West Coast to strengthen their bones with sunshine and calcium. In the last decade, however, the land had been claimed by the Los Angeles elite. The orchards had yielded to wild, secretive mansions with deep windows and heavy doors. Windhall was one of the biggest.

I knew the script for the evening by heart. At seven, shortly after sunset, the first of the guests arrived. Men had been hired for the evening to park the expensive cars in the orchards that surrounded Windhall. That month was filled with garden parties that lasted until daybreak, beautiful women with ebony hair and alabaster skin traipsing down the garden paths, weaving poisonous flowers in their hair. The glittering actors and actresses of the silver screen would pile into cars, draped in furs and diamonds, then drive up Benedict Canyon and arrive at the gates of Windhall.

The evening continued. Twilight gave way to night, a collision of stars against a black landscape. The band began to play, something hopeful. The host of the party, Theodore Langley, had not yet made an appearance. There had been rumors about his latest film, trouble with one of the producers. Still, Theo was not one to be deterred by a little trouble at work. His name commanded respect, and it wasn't just because of his legendary skills as a host. Theodore Langley was a talented director, one of the best.

More guests arrived. On that night, they were invincible, the rulers of a young kingdom. Their names and faces claimed every marquee in Hollywood and beyond, into the vast gray hinterland of unknown Middle America, dusty hamlets with little more than a main street and two stop signs.

The band continued to play. Nine o'clock. The night was a masquerade, filled with men accompanied by dates in silk dresses, all dark eyes and bright smiles. They drifted inside the house in a haze of cigarette smoke and expensive perfume, gliding down the halls of Windhall and trailing their fingers along the walls.

And finally, she arrived. Eleanor Hayes, queen of the silver screen, the type of femme fatale to be described by poets and yet never captured. She eluded description. That evening, she wore a green silk dress with a black sash; after her death, it would become emblematic. Her graceful throat was draped in pearls. The weekend before, she could be found pilfering hand rolled cigarettes on the beach, but on this night, she was elegant.

There were stories about what went on behind the scenes, of course, but most of it remained unsubstantiated. There were stories of dark-eyed beauties who dipped their hands in rosewater and made animal sacrifices, then drank the blood. Chambers and death rooms beneath those big, crazy houses. Nighttime parades, swimming pools filled with champagne and drops of human blood. It was the Golden Age of Hollywood, after all, where the sins of a few went pardoned, if they were wealthy enough.

Excerpted from Windhall by Ava Barry. Copyright © 2021 by Ava Barry. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Crime. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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