BOOK BEAT 58 – Diane Ketcham

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   November 21-27, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Diane Ketcham, author of the recently released novel “The Vanishing A-List,” was an award-winning columnist for the “New York Times.” Her beat was Long Island, especially the Hamptons and the celebrity scene. She also has written a nonfiction book about Long Island called “Long Island: Shores of Plenty.” Not only did Ketcham gain recognition as a print journalist, she also appeared weekly as a commentator on the PBS station WLIW.

Now a Naples resident, Ketcham makes good use of her first-hand knowledge of Eastern Long Island A-List character types, nearby New York City (where so many A-Listers have their in-town residences), and the Florida extensions of that moneyed, style-setting community. She spins a suspenseful tale of obsession, capture, confinement, and abuse in eighty-two bite-sized chapters. With chapters this short, readers are never far from a place where they can conveniently put the book down, but most will not be able to put it down for long.

Does is seem peculiar that Ketcham’s heroine is also a journalist on a major (though fictive) New York newspaper? Attractive, youthful, career-driven A. J. (Jazz) Billings, already a Pulitzer Prize recipient, finds herself covering a Washington press conference on Everglades issues. She had been asked to fill in for another reporter and question Congressman James Fennimore Whitman about his association with Armando Guyera, a wealthy Argentinean rumored to be running an art smuggling operation. 

Soon enough, she recognizes Whitman as a man with whom she had recently enjoyed a reckless, uncharacteristic one-night stand! Whitman pushes the question aside, but quickly asks an aide to find out who that woman is and what she knows.

Calling her boss in New York, Jazz finds out that there is a potential story awaiting her if she’s interested. A cosmetics tycoon is concerned about the seeming disappearance of his A-List playgirl daughter. Is Paine Hayes simply on one of her romantic adventures, or has she met with some kind of foul play? Once Jazz begins poking into this mystery, she gradually uncovers a strange coincidence – several young A-Listers seem to be missing. In fact one of them turns out to be Congressman Whitman’s younger sister, Chris.

As Jazz continues to investigate, and the number of vanished A-Listers grows, she searches to discover if there is a common thread to their disappearances. And, more and more, is seems as if Armando Guyera may have something to do with it. Meanwhile, a frustrating kind of hit-and-run romance builds with the congressman.

It is difficult to say much more about Ketcham’s plot without giving away too much. Jazz’s investigation crosses paths with one being conducted by the FBI. She runs into FBI good guys and bad guys, but which is which? Her own assistant is slain, and Jazz herself falls into the clutches of the evil, over-the-top character responsible for the vanishing celebrities.

For all of its many attractions, “The Vanishing A-List” is light fare and Diane Ketcham does not take herself too seriously. Not only is the primary villain over-the-top and almost comically grotesque (and yet still truly frightening), so are several other characters. Notable among these is Jazz’s mother, a dramatic Georgia belle named Delilah Cordelia Billings who named her daughter Agatha Jasmine (A. J.). Delilah provides some comic relief, as does A. J.’s pooch – a very studly Labrador named Willie whose own escapades almost become a minor subplot.

On Friday, November 23, Diane Ketcham will be signing her book from noon until 2pm at the Paradise Gift Shop in the Pavilion Shopping Center. On November 24 and 25, between 10am and 5pm, she will be one of the exhibiting authors at the Naples Press Club booth during the Naples Renaissance Fall Art Festival along 10th Street South. On December 8, you can find Ketcham at the Gulf Coast Town Center branch of Borders from 1-3pm and then from 5-7pm at the Naples branch of Borders. Find out more about Diane Ketcham and her colorful, fast-paced book at the website tidelowpress.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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Filed under Authors and Books, Book Beat, Florida Authors

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