Author of the John Le Brun series, Brent Monahan shares the fascinating story of how he was inspired to write his newly-released book, The Jeykl Island Club, and how the "quietly annoying and tenacious" Sheriff John Le Brun character came to life.
My wife and I married in New Jersey in 1982 and decided on a honeymoon to Disney World. As we drove south on I95 along Georgia's Golden Isles, we were intrigued by a billboard that read 'Visit the Millionaires' Village.' On a whim, we took the turnoff that led across a large marsh, over a small river, and onto Jekyll Island.
The Millionaires' Village, which consisted of a large clubhouse, the first condominium in North America, and huge family mansions, was both fascinating and depressing.
Later, we would learn it had been built in 1888 as a wintering, hunting, fishing and social resort for the fabulously rich of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago, separated by water from the prying eyes of the common man. The membership was strictly limited to 100, and those few—like the Morgans, Rockefellers, Goulds, Bakers, Cranes—controlled one-sixth of the wealth of the entire United States. The mansions, laughingly called “cottages,” were occupied for as few as two weeks a year between Thanksgiving and Easter.
The space is haunted by the grandeur of the American moguls who vacationed there: a U.S. president's imperialist actions were controlled here, 1,500 miles of wire were laid from Washington, D.C. so that the president of AT&T could simultaneously vacation and participate in the first transcontinental telephone call, and a secret meeting was held that laid the groundwork for the Federal Reserve System.
As federal taxes grew, the Depression took effect, World War II intervened, and the wealthy began vacationing all over the world via passenger planes, the Jekyl Island Club fell out of favor. It was deeded by the shareholders to Georgia in 1948 as a tax write-off, but no money existed in the state budget to maintain it. So it lay decaying for decades, exactly as it had looked in 1910, right through the early 1980s when we explored it.
My wife and I peeked through the windows of several cottages and saw abandoned furniture and even a table fully set for dinner. The clubhouse was locked and there was no state employee to ask, so I found a window with cracked glass, pulled out a section, and unlocked the window so we could step through into the women's library. We moved from room to room in what seemed the set for a haunted hotel film.
When we returned home, I began to research this mysterious club.
My wife, Bonnie, decided it was the perfect setting for a mystery novel and kept after me through the 1980s to develop a story. When we learned that restoration on the Village had begun and a superintendent had been installed in the clubhouse. I wrote to ask for missing pieces of the history, and when he did not write back, we journeyed back to the area and dropped in on the office unannounced. When the superintendent’s secretary announced me, I distinctly heard a voice say, “Tell him I'm not in.” As it turns out, he thought my goal was to write the history of the club and was protecting his personal friends, who were already writing The Jekyll Island Club/Southern Haven for America's Millionaires. Undeterred, I used the library of Brunswick, Georgia, the nearest town to the island, as well as the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library to fill in missing information.
What resulted was a St. Martin's Press period murder mystery novel about a "quietly annoying and tenacious" local sheriff who takes on the business titans of the age in correctly refusing to declare a shooting death on the island as an accident.
Exhaustively researched, The Jekyl Island Club deals with the private machinations of the rich in controlling the Washington politicians of 1899, including William McKinley, and immerses the reader in the details of the period as the sort of murder fiction that feels like vicarious time traveling.
I remained in the world of The Jekyl Island Club to write more novels featuring John Le Brun, since retired and serving as a private detective.
The Jekyl Island Club and The St. Simons Island Club on December 1, 2015, The Sceptred Isle Club and The Manhatten Island Clubs will release March 22, 2016, and The St. Lucia Island Club will release on August 9, 2016.
Being a 'Miniver Cheevy' in my love of the late Victorian/Edwardian periods and with a Progressive bent, my series seeks to faithfully recreate the era and to explore issues that, unfortunately, are still societal problems in our times. These include the politician-buying control done by oligarchs to shift to their further advantage the laws of our land, as well as immigration, sex slavery, the consequences of exceptionalism and imperialism, and women's suffrage and legal treatment.