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The Emperor of Ocean Park

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  4,623 ratings  ·  599 reviews
A riveting novel of ambition, revenge and the power of familial obligations.

Talcott Garland is a successful law professor and devoted family man. When his father, a disgraced former Supreme Court nominee, is found dead under suspicious circumstances, Talcott suspects foul play. Guided by the elements of a mysterious puzzle that his father left, Talcott must risk his marria
Paperback, 848 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Random House Inc. (first published 2002)
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The fact that this book explores university politics featuring east coast black upper-middle class characters made it stand out from the pack, but once you get over this facet (which I did pretty quickly), what you're left with is a well written and fairly intriguing mystery, more memorable than some I've read, less so than others. I suppose a book like this one is an antidote to the urban/hip hop/gangsta/etc. genre of "literature", not so much because it features black characters who are articu ...more
Even though it took me FOREVER to finish, I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. Had it been 100-200 pages shorter and the editing a bit tighter, I would have given it a five star rating.

The characters are what drew me into the book and kept me there. While I've certainly seen and known educated and upper middle class African Americans like Talcott aka Misha (a law professor)and his wife Kimmer (a lawyer) in real life, I've rarely encountered them in the world of fiction and never with
Apr 30, 2008 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Johnny
Shelves: completed
This was one of the moodiest books I have ever read. A well-to-do African American family come together for the funeral of the family patriarch, a judge who once was in the running for a Supreme Court seat, but because of his connection with "Uncle Jack," a shadowy underworld figure, removed himself from consideration in disgrace.

This author is one of the best "mood-setters" I have ever read. He is able to describe alternately the joy of raising a child and the delight of discovering life throu
What's funny is that the very reason I loved this book so much at first is the reason I sort of was bored at the end -- the mystery is almost secondary to the the characters and relationships in the book. A number of the reviews have said the book was slow, but for the first 3/4 of the book, that didn't bother me at all. I actually liked how, instead of a real "who done it" mystery, Carter just really set up a great cast of characters, and only slowly set out even hints that there was a murder. ...more
Carter has an extraordinary command of the English language. One of the most compelling books I've read, primarily for the vocabulary gymnastics. I was sent to my dictionary more than once. However, the plot line of this mystery is secondary to the breadth of Carter's knowledge of human nature. I also take exception to so many evidentiary holes in the mystery that are explained later -- getting the answer before we even know the reason for the question.
Author Carter's sometimes unreliable fir
A father dies and his son must figure out what secrets he has left behind. Others also want to know what the "arrangements" are and so begins the book. I tend to not read a lot of suspense books but I enjoyed this one. There are times where the side stories take a little too much ink but I feel that many of the side stories added to the depth of the story so you never knew which people or bits of information were important to the main plot and which supported the subplots. I also liked how the m ...more
For almost a week Bob and I didn't talk to each other much. That's because he had his nose in this 800+ page book for the first part of the week, and I had mine in it for the second part. Unlike legal thrillers penned by other legally trained writers (e.g. Grisham, Turow, and Baldacci), this book is not one dimensional. It is complex, and the language is rich. It is a window into the world of affluent/well-educated members of the "darker nation" and the book unfolds like layers being peeled away ...more
Michael David Cobb
The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter. is a quite compelling if not evenly flowing or artistic read. It's an ambitious book that works on many different levels. As a first time novelist, Carter should have stuck to one or two, but in the end you are glad that he didn't.[return][return]As a thriller, it bites you slo-o-o-wly. I get the feeling that if Carter weren't so interested in putting us in his protagonist's stubborn and provincial shoes, we might figure out exactly what is going t ...more
Todd Huish
Jul 27, 2008 Todd Huish rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: grisham fans, lovers of mystery/thrillers
Recommended to Todd by: NPR
I don't know what it is about lawyers writing complicated thrillers but, evidently, they're pretty good at it. I think Grisham is the one everyone knows but after reading "The Emporer of Ocean Park" I say there's a new gun in town and his name is Stephen L. Carter.

I heard about this book on NPR during its media blitz and his interview was sufficiently interesting enough to get me to try it out. A lot of books I get from NPR aren't always the most riveting or nearly as interesting as they first
Carter is a good writer in the sense that he puts words and sentences together in a way that is mostly enjoyable to read (although he tends to over-use certain pat phrases -- his use of "darker nation" and "paler nation" was ok once or twice but tiresome after a while.) But at the end of the day, the plot, although complex and fairly engaging while you are reading it, has MAJOR holes in it. The most glaring hole is that if you actually ponder the motive of the person who turns out to have done i ...more
Bryan R.
This is one of the best books I ever read. It is part thriller, part peak into black Martha's Vineyard, part academia. So many interesting twists and characters.
Mar 13, 2010 Nancy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nancy by: Lisa
Shelves: mystery
This is the best mystery I have read in a long, long time and wonder where I was when it first came out.
Stephen Carter writes extremely well and creates fleshy characters with class and depth. His plot is rich with revelations and twists and the pace is good. It is also a thoughtful, sensitive novel which allows its major players to interact in intelligent ways.
Talcott Garland is a law professor at an unnamed Ivy League law school and is married to Kimberly, a lawyer in the running for a posi
The Emperor of Ocean Park, which dedicates quite a number of pages to the game of chess its narrator loves, is itself a sort of chess match. Author Carter runs multiple sophisticated plots concurrently through the story, making Emperor a novel of academia, of racial and professional politics (here often identically aimed), a straight-up legal thriller, and a story of an already disintegrating family coping with the loss of its domineering patriarch – all of which somehow meld into a coherent and ...more
OK, so I finally finished the book and I really liked it! In addition to the use of the terms "darker nation" and "paler nation", which I thought was a simple but wonderful way to distinguish the races (I tire of having to say black and white), the writing was really quite good. This was not a short novel, so Carter had enough pages to develop the characters and I'm glad that he did. I came to understand, though not always like, the whole Garland clan and their actions, even little Bentley. Thos ...more
This was entertaining. Talcott defintely became a character for whom one can sympathize, from his failing marriage with Kimmer, to his heart rending tenderness toward his son, to his anguish over the mysterious and dangerous legacy his father has haunted him. I found the chess descriptions and the circle of law a bit dry. I do have a rudimentary knowledge of chess - but the description of "double excelsior" left me scratching my head. And being a former litigation attorney and UGH! law student, ...more
I really tried to power through this book, but it was so, so, so overwritten. Although, what else can you expect from a lawyer - a law professor lawyer, no less. Lawyers: please stop writing wordy books describing the same thing in three different ways in every sentence. Not every clever description or turn of phrase that you think of needs to make it into your book, okay?
Cynthia Marie
I first read this fantastic novel in 2002 and it was one of the best novels I'd read in a long time. It is still one of my favorites. I am re-reading it again. Still as brilliant as the first time.
Jasmine Harris
When I first picked up The Emperor of Ocean Park I was in high school and I saw it on an episode of Girlfriends. Talking about the influence television has on a person. I so wanted to be Joan, reading super sophisticated books and such. So I made up in my mind that I would seek this book out.

One day at work, I've been in the library system for 10 years, I found a copy on our sale shelf. I was ecstatic! I paid the $0.10 for it, took it home and committed myself to the first page. And what a comm
Dennis D.
"Emperor" is Stephen L. Carter’s first novel. Carter is a Yale law professor who has written non-fiction books in the past, and who also writes editorial columns that occasionally pop up on the Cincinnati Enquirer's opinion pages.

The protagonist of the story is Talcott Garland, a law professor whose father has just passed away. His father, "The Judge," as he was known, was a federal judge and a failed Supreme Court nominee, and their recent relationship was strained. The Judge leaves behind cryp
I was pretty disappointed with this book. The story begins with the unexpected death of a father/judge. The family hasn't been particularly close in years but the daughter and son, Talcott begin to believe through a series of bizarre incidents that their father was murdered. Their father left Talcott with a series of clues to find out what the "arrangements" were. And good and bad people are coming after Talcott to find out what the arrangements are as well.

The plot sounded intriguing enough but
This book was too long. 672 pages for a legal thriller? Come on. It could have been cut and parsed down to a good 400 pages and been a much better book. Instead, it felt like a slog. I picked up the book while visiting my friend Noelle during the 4th of July weekend. I finished it at the end of November. That ain’t right. I never sucked me in like a good book should.

I liked the mystery in and of itself. I thought it was intriguing and I really wanted Garland to figure out what “the arrangements”
Downloaded from

Narrator: Peter Francis James
Publisher: Random House Audio, 2002
Length: 6 hours and 6 min. (abridged)

Publisher's Summary
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 Leagu
I really enjoyed this book! It got alot of hype because it is a legal thriller/mystery in the style of John Grisham, but the author and main characters are African American. The book is pretty long - 800+, pages but they all help unravel the complex plot. One of the most interesting characters is the pastor who councels the main character. I don't know if it was done on purpose, but that character seemed to be offering representing absolute truth to the main character who was sifting through a p ...more
On and on and on

The Emperor of Ocean Park was a required read for a book club. In deference to the member who selected the moves I read it to its end. This was a very painful and overly time consuming experience. The main character, called Misha by some, has the habit of ruminating ad nausea. The book is repetitive, overly drawn out, rather pretentious in its very slow devolvement of information. At the core is Judge Garland, our narrator's recently deceased father, and the judges reputation, bo
Catherine Gillespie
The Emperor of Ocean Park is an engaging and thoughtful story that is sort of a murder mystery, sort of a legal mystery, sort of a novel about the meaning of family and legacy, and sort of a story about faith and politics and race relations. In short, it’s a really great story that also resonates with philosophical and cultural themes.

The book is not a thriller: the pacing is more deliberate and, frankly, the story has more merit than most of that genre, but I really liked the depth of detail an
Dennis Fischman
First, let me admit my prejudice. When I think "black conservative," I think of someone like Clarence Thomas who is willfully blind to the ways that racism (not race) operates in the U.S. That made it hard for me to sympathize with the title character, whose death sets off the whole scramble for answers, or his son Misha, who find himself thinking his father's thoughts more often than he cares to admit.

Similarly, another character who becomes important at the end is an anti-abortion lesbian fem
Laura Byrnes
I had a difficult time staying focused on this book. There were so many characters and sub-plots that it was confusing trying to keep it all straight. It was a bit of a slog for me, and not all of the mysteries in the plot were answered.

However, it was a good story, somewhat riveting (notable, given the fact that this book is now 14 years old) with sharply-drawn characters and transportive scenery.

There is one recurring thematic quote which did stick with me, and it's worth repeating because I t
PROTAGONIST: Talcott Garland, law school professor
SETTING: Massachusetts
RATING: 3.25
WHY: 654 pages of unsympathetic characters, a farfetched puzzle and some annoying writing - in particular, the affectation of the references to the "darker nation" (i.e., black) and the "paler nation" (i.e., white) - yet, I was engaged enough to keep reading. Why remains a mystery to me!
A fun read, especially as a law student and doubly especially since it was written by my contracts professor. I read the last 350 pages in one day, so it definitely kept my attention, and I found the mix of mystery and law interesting. I don't think real-life Yale law students are nearly as bad as the (thinly-disguised) ones in the book, though. Or at least I hope not...
This is a quite wonderful thriller, well-plotted, lots of twists, turns, suspense, mind games, action, and believable flawed characters. I give it three stars rather than four because it's a little heavy going for the first 300 (of 650) pages - although I couldn't put it down for the latter half. A heavier hand at editing would have helped to shorten it a little and, more importantly, improved the pacing. That said, it's worth the effort to get engaged. Many people are after some secret informat ...more
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Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale where he has taught since 1982. He has published seven critically acclaimed nonfiction books on topics ranging from affirmative action to religion and politics. His first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002), was an immediate national best seller. His latest novel is New England White (Knopf, 2007). A recipient of the NAA ...more
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