Summary and book reviews of The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen Carter

The Emperor of Ocean Park

by Stephen L. Carter

The Emperor of Ocean Park
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2002, 672 pages
    May 2003, 672 pages

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Book Summary

Intricate, superbly written, often scathingly funny - a brilliantly crafted tapestry of ambition, family secrets, murder, integrity tested, and justice gone terribly wrong.

An extraordinary fiction debut: a large, stirring novel of suspense that is, at the same time, a work of brilliantly astute social observation. The Emperor of Ocean Park is set in two privileged worlds: the upper crust African American society of the eastern seaboard--old families who summer on Martha's Vineyard--and the inner circle of an Ivy League law school. It tells the story of a complex family with a single, seductive link to the shadowlands of crime.

The Emperor of the title, Judge Oliver Garland, has just died, suddenly. A brilliant legal mind, conservative and famously controversial, Judge Garland made more enemies than friends. Many years before, he'd earned a judge's highest prize: a Supreme Court nomination. But in a scene of bitter humiliation, televised across the country, his nomination collapsed in scandal. The humbling defeat became a private agony, one from which he never recovered.

But now the Judge's death raises even more questions--and it seems to be leading to a second, even more terrible scandal. Could Oliver Garland have been murdered? He has left a strange message for his son Talcott, a professor of law at a great university, entrusting him with "the arrangements"--a mysterious puzzle that only Tal can unlock, and only by unearthing the ambiguities of his father's past. When another man is found dead, and then another, Talcott--wry, straight-arrow, almost too self-aware to be a man of action--must risk his career, his marriage, and even his life, following the clues his father left him.

Intricate, superbly written, often scathingly funny, The Emperor of Ocean Park is a triumphant work of fiction, packed with character and incident--a brilliantly crafted tapestry of ambition, family secrets, murder, integrity tested, and justice gone terribly wrong.


When my father finally died, he left the Redskins tickets to my brother, the house on Shepard Street to my sister, and the house on the Vineyard to me. The football tickets, of course, were the most valuable item in the estate, but then Addison was always the biggest favorite and the biggest fan, the only one of the children who came close to sharing my father's obsession, as well as the only one of us actually on speaking terms with my father the last time he drew his will. Addison is a gem, if you don't mind the religious nonsense, but Mariah and I have not been close in the years since I joined the enemy, as she puts it, which is why my father bequeathed us houses four hundred miles apart.

I was glad to have the Vineyard house, a tidy little Victorian on Ocean Park in the town of Oak Bluffs, with lots of frilly carpenter's Gothic along the sagging porch and a lovely morning view of the white band shell set amidst a vast sea of smooth ...

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About This Book

When the brilliant and controversial black judge, Oliver Garland, is found dead in his study, not everyone believes it was a heart attack. Mystery, secrecy, and misfortune seemed to surround the judge during his life–his daughter was killed in a hit-and-run car accident and his nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected in a scandalous public hearing–and now that's he's dead the mysteries only deepen. He has left his son Talcott, professor of law at a prestigious New England university, a set of cryptic instructions regarding his "arrangements." Talcott's sister Mariah is certain that their father was murdered and produces one conspiracy theory after another to prove it; his wife, the beautiful, ...
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Media Reviews

New York Times - Michiko Katutani

....a contrived, implausible and needlessly baroque melodrama, which reads as if it were written for serial publication, with nearly every chapter ending on a hokey cliffhanger.


In a word, a humdinger.

Library Journal - Jennifer Baker

Those who enjoy a leisurely pace to their suspense and subscribe to Carter's philosophy of conservatism will enjoy it. The rest will stick with Grisham, Martini, and Margolin.

Book Magazine - Chris Barsanti

The book's subject, an often-ignored segment of American society, is a welcome departure. However, the author is prone to lectures on race relations and the state of academe, and the story suffers from his tin ear for dialogue and portentous tone.

Kirkus Reviews

This sleek, immensely readable first novel is custom-designed for the kind of commercial success enjoyed by John Grisham's The Firm 11 years ago. . . . A melodrama with brains and heart to match its killer plot. . . . Irresistible.


Fascinating. . . . [A] suspenseful tale of ambition, revenge, and the power of familial obligations. . . . An elegantly nuanced novel, with finely drawn characters, a challenging plot, and perfect pacing

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This first-rate legal thriller, which touches electrically on our sexual, racial and religious anxieties, will be the talk of the political in-crowd this summer.

Author Blurb Gay Talese
A novel of great originality and insight a saga of an African-American family of affluence and privilege forced to reckon with their misadventures and crimes. But Carter's novel also explores, perhaps for the first time in recent memory, a less familiar vision of the black experience in America one of pride and optimism, and possibility. I've never read a book quite like it, and I enjoyed it very much indeed.

Reader Reviews


One of the best books I have been reading for while so far! Very detailed but it doesn't start to bore you at all.
I recommend this book to everyone who wants to enjoy some very exciting evenings.

Billy Bass

Ignore the NY Times review and read this book. True, there's a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter and that is what makes it so much fun to read. The story is complelling, the mystery is suspenseful.The author puts you inside the head of the ...   Read More


A very good read--and a great mystery novel. Yes, it takes a bit longer to read than most, but it's definitely worth the time and effort. The motif of chess is well done and thoroughly explained so that even a "chess dummy" like me could ...   Read More

Steve Suk

Emperor of Ocean Park was a book that I had a very hard time putting down. Stephen Carter writes with such an exactness that I found myself reading each word, sentence and paragraph as if it were a 7 course meal; wanting to digest and ruminate on ...   Read More

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