Jo Slater, married to one of Manhattan’s wealthiest men, hosts grand parties for friends and fellow socialites. The fairy tale ends when her husband, Lucius, dies—apparently of a heart attack—while messing around with Monique de Passy, a French countess. The only thing more shocking is his will, which leaves virtually his entire estate to Monique. Jo suspects Monique murdered her own first husband as well as Lucius and sets out to prove both, all while trying to make ends meet selling bargain home furnishings.
Social Crimes gently scorns those who thrive on others’ misfortunes and whose self-worth depends on an invitation to the right party: “Amis mondains—‘worldly friends’—were the people I cultivated strictly for the sake of social life,” Jo says, “not because I especially liked them or because they especially liked me, but because we were all players in the same game. . . . We smiled and laughed and gossiped among ourselves at the various festivities we all went to, but—and in New York, nothing counts until the but—we rarely missed a chance to ‘dish’ one another in private.”
In Jo’s world, power—that is, popularity—comes from being on the right boards and attending the right functions. It all boils down to money: If you have it, you’re not necessarily in, but if you don’t—as Jo discovers—you’re definitely out.
The author, who splits her time between Washington and New York, manages to make her down-on-her-luck rich-lady heroine endearing. It’s not easy to feel sorry for a socialite who has to find a job and is upset that she had to give up her penthouse, but somehow we want her to get what she’s entitled to—and maybe kick the countess back to France. The book’s only flaws are the Marie Antoinette comparisons. Yes, there are similarities, but Hitchcock beats the allusion into the ground. Quibbles aside, Social Crimes is an ideal summer book—interesting enough to keep you reading but frivolous enough to remind you you’re on vacation.
Jane Stanton Hitchcock