Contributor: Sherri Daley October 11, 2023 4 min read
Set in 1977 New York, two estranged friends reunite at the haunting estate where one of their aunts died reading an Egyptian Book of the Dead. Did she die from a curse?… Or was she murdered?
Ivan Obolensky tells his readers that he wrote Eye of the Moon with only one purpose in mind: to delight the reader — and delight he does. With a fine hand, he has written a richly layered Gothic mystery which, only a few pages in, reveals itself to be an expertly crafted and sophisticated nod to the British board game of Clue.
There’s a character, Alice, already deceased — murdered? — and a dozen or so others who are either suspects, secret keepers, accessories, witnesses or simply clueless dramatis personae. There’s Stanley, the family butler who manages the sprawling household; his wife Dagmar, whose prowess in the kitchen is unmatchable; Maw, the unassailable matriarch; the Dodges, esteemed host and hostess; and a handful of guests at a magnificent estate on the banks of the Hudson River.
Into this collection of the well-dressed and well-mannered, Johnny Dodge invites his best friend and childhood companion, Percy. This is Johnny’s family compound: the manor house, the gardens and the grounds, copses, ponds and outbuildings. But Percy is practically his brother, having been raised with him in a posh New York City apartment overlooking Central Park. So he’s family, basically, and with that, Percy has always been obligated to take part in harmless mischief and help where he can.
They’re grown men now, though, and Johnny’s situation — which needs Percy’s participation — is complicated. Childish stuff like how can they replace a priceless vintage wine they drank as teenagers and much more grown-up issues. For one, Johnny has racked up some sizable losses in the family business, and then there’s the matter of Brunhilde, whom the family hopes he will marry.
Percy is our narrator. He’s eager to help, and returning to Rhinebeck where the two boys spent their summers is a welcome thought, despite the circumstances. But Percy has more to learn about what’s been going on in his absence than he’s prepared for. Hidden rooms, secret bookcases, ghosts, black magic, ancient curses and scandal make the nights a little creepy and the days increasingly uncomfortable.
As Percy learns the backstories of the people in the house, his visit becomes more and more intriguing. Especially the rooms where Alice lived — and died — surrounded by charms and amulets, treasures and books about sorcery and witchcraft. Here lies a palpable mystery. What was Alice searching for? And how did she die?
There’s so much more in Eye of the Moon — romance, deceit, lies and high finance — and Obolensky is a master at keeping his readers engaged. Is Dagmar the cook conjuring up spirits with her tea? What became of Alice’s lovers? And what does Stanley the butler know?
The men and women dress for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the women in gowns and jewels, the men in morning suits, tuxedos, and tailcoats. Each meal is described in minute detail — appetizers, soups, a fish course, the main course, dessert. After supper, the gentlemen withdraw to their brandy and cigars, the women to gossip and liqueur. The house is immaculate and secretive, filled with shadows and delicate aromas and, another nod to the game of Clue, with possible murder weapons all over the house from cutlery to candlesticks.
Eye of the Moon is fiction, of course, but Obolensky writes about what he knows. Raised in a house with butlers, chauffeurs, maids and cooks, visited by princes and presidents and Russian aristocracy, he spent his summers in a manor house on the 2800-acre estate in Rhinebeck owned by William Vincent Astor.
He brings his readers into that world of privilege and luxury, and if reading Eye of the Moon is not quite enough, one can visit his website where, among other things, there are the recipes for Dagmar’s finest meals and mysterious tonics and teas.
And since Obolensky doesn’t tie up all his loose ends, there is the long-anticipated sequel, Shadow of the Son.