Prather’s Pick: Steel takes different approach in ‘Past Perfect’
September 4, 2018
The plot of "Past Perfect," this week's novel for adults, seems different for author Danielle Steel, and she agrees. On the "Dear Readers" pages at the beginning of the book, Steel writes that it's a "very unusual book for me." It is a ghost story, a very special ghost story.
The novel begins in Manhattan, as Blake Gregory sits in his office considering a job offer. He has just been given the opportunity to become CEO of a new, high-tech social media company in San Francisco. Its founders are two young men who have made a fortune in media ventures. If he accepts the job, Blake will make twice what he's making now.
It's not that the Gregorys don't have a good life. Blake's wife, Sybil, is a consultant to museums, advising them about acquisitions, and she does a whole lot more, including writing a book. All her work is in New York.
Their son, Andrew, has just started his senior year of high school, and Caroline is a junior. Charlie is 6 years old and has started first grade. Blake knows they won't like the idea of moving across the country.
In the end, however, the family decides to support Blake, and he heads out to San Francisco to find an apartment for them. In the process, he finds an old Victorian house that looks more like a museum. It's the Butterfield Mansion, which once belonged to a banking family who lost its money in the Great Depression. The house went into foreclosure and is for sale at a "ridiculously low price."
The house has several floors with 20 bedrooms (each with a dressing room and bathroom), reception rooms, maids' rooms, a grand ballroom, and lots more.
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When Blake and Sybil close on the house, they're also given a book with information about the Butterfields and even some family photos.
The first night in the house, there's an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale. When Sybil goes downstairs to check for damage, she walks past the dining room, where she encounters a woman wearing an elegant gown. The woman speaks to Sybil, accusing her of being "practically naked."
Not only that, there are other people there, too, and Sybil recognizes them from the photos she was given at the bank. They're members of the Butterfield family, and they quickly disappear to the upstairs bedrooms.
In the days to come, the Gregory and Butterfield families eat their dinners together. Young Magnus plays with Charlie. Blake consults Bertrand about his business venture. The ghost family is visible only to the Gregorys. It's 1917 for the Butterfields and 100 years later for the Gregorys.
One day, Sybil finds living descendants of the Butterfields who live in Paris. She invites them them to visit, but she doesn't tell them about the ghosts. What will happen?
This is an intriguing novel.
"Past Perfect" is published by Random House (2017). I picked up a large print book from the shelf of new books at the Craig Moffat County Library. The book retails for $31.