By Trish Harnetiaux; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
The house is perfect: lit candles floating in every window; vases of holly and ivy; a fire crackling in the fireplace; and the Secret Santa table laden with wrapped and beribboned gifts.
Just like Claudine Calhoun planned. It has to be a perfect evening. Pop Princess Zara wants to see — and maybe buy? — Montague house. Calhoun + Calhoun has to have a triumph to stop its slide into insolvency.
Claudine would — and had — sold her soul to make Calhoun + Calhoun a success. When Zara called and asked to see the house on the same day as Calhoun + Calhoun’s holiday party, Claudine instantly suggested that they combine the two events. Zara agrees.
Montague House had been the company’s first project: Claudine had acquired the property, and her architect husband Henry had designed the home with its soaring 20-foot ceilings studded with skylights; its 164 windows offering a 360º view of the surrounding mountains and aspen forest and its rich cherry wood floor.
But Montague House also has a secret, one that eats at Henry’s soul. All Claudine can think about is a sale to a celebrity client who will blast her new purchase across social media.
But what Claudine doesn’t realize is that Zara is a looky-loo. She’s obsessed with the 1976 negligent homicide of Olympic skier Vladimir “Spider” Sabich by singer/actress Claudine Longet in Aspen.
Claudine’s perfect evening slowly and subtly unravels. First, her rival realtor, Steve Gilman, shows up uninvited. Uninvited by Claudine at least. She knows he’s after Zara.
Then as the Secret Santa gifts are mostly distributed, one of Claudine’s employees selects a plainly wrapped package. When the paper is torn away, a rough sculpture of a cowboy on a horse is revealed. Claudine recognizes it instantly and knows the secret at the heart of Montague House is about to be revealed.
Author Trish Harnetiaux reveals her story in alternating chapters told by Claudine, Henry and Zara. Punctuating the story are pages from a letter written by an unidentified author. The connection is revealed in a surprising ending.
The book is well-written without unnecessary embellishment. Harnetiaux captures Aspen’s blend of old West and nouveau glitter well. Her characters are distinctive and the differing generational perspectives and values between Zara and Claudine are priceless.
About the Author: Trish Harnetiaux
Trish Harnetiaux is a Brooklyn-based playwright and producer. THE SECRET SANTA is her first novel. She has written several plays, published by Samuel French.
She has had fellowships from MacDowell, Yaddo and the Millay Colony.
She teaches writing for stage and screen at the low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Queens University of Charlotte, NC.