Friday, December 4, 2009

"Evening’s Empire"

Zachary Lazar graduated from Brown University and received the Iowa Writer's Workshop's James Michener/Copernicus Society Award. He lives in Southampton, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey, where he holds a 2009-2010 Hodder Fellowship at Princeton. He received a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Evening's Empire: The Story of My Father's Murder, his third book, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book Evening’s Empire is mostly given over to a long quote from the New York Times. Understanding the meaning of this quote took me months of research. It was important to understand it, because it helped explain the circumstances of my father’s murder, which is my book’s subject. My father was murdered by hit men in Phoenix, Arizona in 1975. The man who hired them, through a chain of go-betweens, was my father’s former business partner, Ned Warren, Sr.

The Times article describes a letter from Senator Barry Goldwater used to promote a land development in Arizona called Chino Valley Ranchettes. Chino Valley is a region north of Phoenix. My father and his business partner, Ned Warren, had made a down payment on some land there, subdivided it, called it “Chino Meadows,” and were now retailing it to local buyers and overseas investors in Japan. Barry Goldwater’s letter was an important tool in gaining the trust of these buyers and investors.

The Goldwater letter is an almost word-for-word duplicate of a letter my father had drafted. My father and Warren had wanted Goldwater to sign off on this letter, which he did. The letter refers to “homesites in Chino Valley”—not specifically “Chino Meadows” or “Chino Valley Ranchettes.” As far as I can tell, there never was anything called “Chino Valley Ranchettes.” It is a mistake made by the New York Times. In any case, with the Goldwater letter in hand, Ned Warren went to Japan and pitched still another subdivision called Chino Grande Ranchettes. Chino Valley, Chino Meadows, Chino Grande. Perhaps it’s no wonder that even the New York Times could not keep the names straight.

Chino Meadows was a viable subdivision. One could install roads and utilities and build houses there. Chino Grande was uninhabitable land full of cliffs and jagged rocks.

I would have simplified this if I could have. Janet Maslin of the New York Times recently savaged my book because she couldn’t understand it. Fortunately there are smarter readers than Janet Maslin out there.

My father’s business partner, Ned Warren, was a lifelong con man. He stole millions of dollars from people all across the world during this time. How my father got entangled with someone like that is far more complicated than even this little episode of Chino Valley, Chino Meadows, Chino Grande.
Watch the Evening’s Empire video, and learn more about the book and author at Zachary Lazar's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue