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The Gold Coast
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“[Demille is] a true master.” – Dan Brown, #1 bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code
Welcome to the fabled Gold Coast, that stretch on the North Shore of Long Island that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America. Here two men are destined for an explosive collision: John Sutter, Wall Street lawyer, holding fast to a fading aristocratic legacy; and Frank Bellarosa, the Mafia don who seizes his piece of the staid and unprepared Gold Coast like a latter-day barbarian chief and draws Sutter and his regally beautiful wife, Susan, into his violent world. Told from Sutter’s sardonic and often hilarious point of view, The Gold Coast is Nelson DeMille’s captivating story laced with sexual passion and suspense.
Table of Contents
A Preview of The Panther
A Preview of The Quest
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The Magic Mountain
The Gold Coast has gone through dozens of printings since it was first published nearly two decades ago, and of my fifteen novels, this is the book that I'm most proud of, and the book that I'm sure will continue to sell long after I'm gone. My heirs like the sound of that, too.
The Gold Coast is also the book that has received the most favorable and thoughtful reviews of all my books, but more important, this is the book that has generated the most reader response of all my novels during the thirty years I've been writing.
And if my fan mail is any indication, this is the book that readers read more than once, discovering, I hope, something new with each reading; and if you're reading it for the first time, I hope you also enjoy it as millions of others have.
I tend to switch genres when I write, and I've written mysteries, action/adventure, Cold War espionage, and Vietnam stories. The Gold Coast, however, is different in tone and in story line from my others, so when I set out to write this book, I had to leave the world of action/adventure, mystery, suspense, war, and espionage, and get into the more genteel world of upper-class society as it existed and still exists on Long Island's fabled Gold Coast. This is a world of money, mansions, manners, and mores, and into this world I introduced the Mafia.
The themes of this story are diverse, and aside from an intriguing plot, good writing, interesting locales, and informative peeks into other worlds and cultures, what ultimately makes for a good novel are the characters. In The Gold Coast, I've assembled what I think is an engaging and quirky cast of supporting actors, and three costars: John Whitman Sutter; his wife, Susan Stanhope Sutter; and a Mafia don, Frank Bellarosa.
John Sutter is the narrator, and the story unfolds through his eyes. Apparently, I've succeeded in making John Sutter come alive because I've gotten hundreds of letters from women asking if (a) I was John Sutter, and (b) if not, how he could be reached. Interestingly, most men also liked this guy. He is a man's man, but also a woman's man—not an easy character to create in a book and, as many women have informed me, not an easy man to find in real life.
As for Susan Sutter, she is part male fantasy and part male nightmare.This lady is a challenge, but worth the cost of her high maintenance. Men who have written to me about her are divided into two camps: those who love her; and those who definitely do not, but would nevertheless like to spend a night with her.
As for Frank Bellarosa, when a novelist creates a Mafia don, he runs the risk of unintended parody, or at least drawing some unfavorable comparisons with other literary, movie, and real-life Mafia dons—Vito Corleone and John Gotti being the most recognizable.
I tried to avoid this, of course, but the image of the Mafia don is so embedded in the American psyche and culture that at some point I said, "The hell with it—Frank Bellarosa is coming from Central Casting." And yet, Bellarosa is different, the way every human being is different; he is a product of his upbringing in Brooklyn, but he's also influenced by his new environment on the Gold Coast, and this causes him some conflicts and even some moments of self-appraisal.
Regarding the movies, virtually all readers of The Gold Coast who have written to me have asked me why this book hasn't been made into a movie, so I'll answer that question here. The movie rights to The Gold Coast are owned by Bregman Productions and the Bregmans, Martin and Michael, originally bought the rights with the idea of having Al Pacino, with whom they'd made several movies, star as the Mafia don. For a variety of reasons that would take another book to explain, this project has had many ups and downs, but as of this writing, the project is back on track, and now, it seems, everything is coming together with a new cast and a new star; I'll be posting any updates on my Web site.
In order to fully understand the world of this novel, the reader needs some history—or, as they say in publishing and the movie business—the backstory. The novel itself gives some of this, of course, but this backstory is more hinted at and felt rather than narrated. So, for those curious readers, here is some of the history of this world, which also offers some clues as to my motivation for writing this book.
I was born in New York City and in 1947, when I was four years old, my family moved to nearby Long Island. New York City's teeming population of eight million was ready to spill out of the five boroughs and pour into the farms and villages of old Long Island, and my father was one of the many post–World War II builders to come out to Long Island from the city to help create a new suburban frontier. In 1946, Arthur Levitt began building Levittown—15,000 homes on what had once been potato fields and meadows, the largest single-family house subdivision ever created. By the late 1950s, over a million people had transformed much of Long Island from rural to suburban.
As a child, I'd ride around the unpaved roads of the new housing tracts with my father in one of his army surplus jeeps, and even at that young age, I think I understood that one way of life was passing away and another was beginning. Long Island's Dutch and English history goes back to the early 1600s, and there was much that should have been saved and preserved, but in the rush to provide housing to returning veterans and their babyboomer families, questions of land use and landmark preservation were rarely addressed.
First, the farms fell to the builders, then the forests, and gradually the grand estates of Long Island's North Shore—the Gold Coast—began to be divided into building lots by the surveyors, and the great houses began falling to the wrecking ball. Much of the visible evidence of the Gold Coast, spanning the time periods of the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties, and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, was disappearing as housing tracts covered fields and woodlands where ladies and gentlemen once rode to hounds, and hundred-room mansions were either abandoned, razed, or used to house institutions.
By the 1970s, the acceleration of the destruction had slowed, and efforts were being made to preserve the remaining estates as parks, museums, or nature conservancies.
This was the Long Island I knew growing up, but I was only dimly aware of the history of the Gold Coast—that is, until I was in college and read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
Gatsby is not only an entertaining story, but also a fascinating piece of social history, a peek into the loves, lives, and tragedies of the people who lived in that special time and place—the Gold Coast of Long Island during the Jazz Age.
As I read Gatsby in 1962, I was struck by the fact that the story took place only a few miles from where I was going to college and from where I grew up. Also, the time distance between the Stock Market Crash of October 1929 and my freshman year of college was thirty-three years—aeons for me, but not for my parents or some of my professors, who had lived through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Yet it seemed to me that most people spoke very little about the 1920s, and only a bit more about the Depression. The defining years of their lives seemed to have been World War II. In retrospect, the years between the First World War and the end of the Second World War were so crammed with momentous and earth-shattering events that, as one of my history teachers put it, "These thirty years produced more history than the average person could consume."
So, although the 1920s were in many ways a turning point in American history, there were other turning points, and thus, the Roaring Twenties, while not forgotten, were to some extent eclipsed by subsequent events.
Early in my writing career, I decided I wanted to write a Gatsbyesque novel. I began searching for similar novels written during the period or afterward, and I was surprised at how few I was able to turn up, other than "gangster books," which centered mostly around Prohibition.
But the 1920s still fascinated me, and one day someone said, "Examine the pieces of the Crash. Examine the Crash site." In other words, write a contemporary novel set on the old Gold Coast amid the remaining mansions and estates and the crumbling ruins. This seemed the best and most workable idea.
But what kind of story did I want to tell? Obviously, I needed old WASP families, some down on their luck, some doing well. I needed to examine the old morals, manners, and mores that still hung on, and compare and contrast them to the new suburban America that lay just beyond the hedgerows of the once-grand estates.
I knew the ingredients, the formula, but when I put it together, it still had no heat, no light, and no spark; there was something missing. Finally, a small article in a local newspaper provided the missing element: the Mafia.
The more successful of the organized crime families had for years been taking up residence on the Gold Coast, and now the entire theme of my proposed novel took form: The Godfather meets The Great Gatsby on the Gold Coast.
I won't go into detail about the writing process or the research, but suffice it to say, I knew a good number of the people in my novel. And those I didn't know personally, I knew of. Thus, when I began writing The Gold Coast, this lost world that had seemed to me in 1962 so distant in time and place had become strangely closer, reminding me of the famous last line of Gatsby—"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
But what is it about The Gold Coast that has so captured the imagination of so many readers, not only in America, but worldwide? This is hard to answer, except to say that the story is a universal one: It is first a love story, but also a story about America and of America, how we were, where we are, and where we might be going. It's a story, too, that combines those delicious ingredients of lust, sex, and coveting your neighbor's wife—all brought to high heat in a spicy dish. It is a novel that touches on some primal fears and needs, such as the territorial imperative, the threat and use of violence, and the battle between good and evil.
I believe also that there is a great affinity—duality, if you will—between the demise of the "old" Mafia and the old-money WASP world portrayed in The Great Gatsby. Both groups are on the far side of their Belle Epoque, or clinging to the remnants of their Belle Epoque. Some say a new America is emerging that has no room for, nor tolerance of, organized crime on the one hand, and inherited wealth and privilege on the other. That's not true. What is true is that other groups are now getting pieces of the apple pie. In America, more than just about anywhere else on this planet, "the more things change, the more they remain the same"; I truly believe The Gold Coast can be read seventy years from now, and it will be as understandable then as the eighty-year-old Gatsby is today.
In addition to being my most popular and critically acclaimed book, The Gold Coast is far and away the book that most of my readers have suggested needs a sequel. There is, however, a strong and pervasive belief among writers and publishers that (a) sequels don't work, and (b) you should leave well enough alone.
Nevertheless, after nearly twenty years of being begged, badgered, and bullied by readers about continuing this story, I got up the courage to try to top my best book, and I wrote The Gate House.
The Gate House is, I believe, at least as good as The Gold Coast and, in some ways, better, but I leave the ultimate judgment to you, the reader, and I welcome comments on The Gate House and The Gold Coast in my Web site mailbox.
If you're reading The Gold Coast for the first time, put yourself back in the early 1990s, a time that seems almost peaceful and innocent compared to the post-9/11 world—but a time that is immediately recognizable as the calm before the storm.
And if you're re-reading this book after many years, welcome back to The Gold Coast, a place and a time that grows more distinct and more relevant even as it recedes into the past.
Long Island, New York
- On Sale
- Apr 1, 2001
- Page Count
- 500 pages
- Grand Central Publishing