I was married in 1982. My wife and I decided to take a serendipitous honeymoon, driving south on I95. In Georgia, we saw a billboard reading, "Visit the Millionaires' Village." We turned off at Brunswick and crossed over a causeway onto Jekyll Island. There, we found one of the wintering resorts of America's fabulously rich from the era 1875-1945. The story is complex; but basically the New York/Boston/Philadelphia plutocrats were searching for a winter spot totally isolated from prying eyes, with excellent water, healthy climate, and abundant fish and game.
This gem of the Golden Isles perfectly suited them. The membership was strictly limited to 100 and included the Goulds, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Bordens, Cranes, Bakers and even Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaperman.
When the world changed due to airplanes, the club became outdated and failed. It was deeded to the State of Georgia, which let it fall into a miserable condition by the time we found it. Vandals had burned Pulitzer's cottage to the ground. My wife and I broke into the abandoned clubhouse and conducted our own tour. We were hooked on this fascinating slice of Americana. Much like Williamsburg, its abandonment was the key to its survival in its original state.
I set out to do my usual exhaustive research. This resulted in a sweeping novel of about 700 typed pages that traced one of the lesser families and jumped from the great Baltimore fire to the mill strikes in Massachusetts. Publishers universally judged it "too historical for fiction and too fictional for a historical work." I set the project aside; but my wife kept after me.
Eventually, I decided not to write a saga of 70 years, but rather to fix on a single week and using about 90% of facts. The event was the visit to the club by President William McKinley, who was seeking re-election and feared that the presence of his rival on the island meant that the rich were lining up to defeat him. I needed an antagonist to all of this flagrant wealth and contemptuous power. I hit upon the local sheriff, a man of great native intelligence denied a university education by the collapse of the South following the Civil War. He had also been cheated out of a fair price for his section of the island and had an ax to grind with the founding members. He refused to allow a murder that may or may not have been an accident to be swept aside before the president arrived. This man, John LeBrun, turned out to be more than a match for the local and "Yankee" opposition. The facts organically flowed into the tale; and by interweaving the U.S. history of the day, it put into stark relief just how little the politics of power have (or have not) changed.
I returned to the beautifully restored Jekyl Island Club Historical District and Brunswick once to do research, and visited three more times to do massive book signings for the hardback and then paperback. Then, in January of 2005, I delivered the keynote speech for the Friends of Jekyll Island (the spelling has changed several times). A particularly gratifying moment came when one of the tour guides said, "You know more about this club than any of us."
The Jekyl Island Club has seen some Hollywood interest; but period murder mysteries are difficult to sell to the general movie public, especially when there are precious few women in the story. Nevertheless, several people/groups believe that this would be a successful cinematic work.
Because of the thousands of copies of The Jekyl Island Club that have sold, I have happily become an unofficial ambassador of the place. Jekyll Island and the Millionaires' Village is one of America's best-kept vacation/resort secrets. Aside from the meticulously restored village, with its beautiful clubhouse and gargantuan "cottages," the island has many hotels, 2.5 dune golf courses, horseback riding, a watersport park, great fishing and the very exclusive St. Simon's Island right next door, with the world-famous Cloisters resort. I heartily recommend it and provide some photos to whet your appetite.
Critical praise for The Jekyl Island Club:
"Satisfying…a charming period piece." The Wall Street Journal
"Combines a compelling mystery with fascinating characters from the very top levels of society in 1899. Readers will find themselves enjoying the rich period atmosphere at least as much as the crime solving. A first-class yarn." Booklist
"Vastly entertaining, with surprises and reverses at every turn."
Tampa Tribune & Times
"A leisurely intertwining of historical figures and events with fictional characters in what proves to be an entertaining whodunit. The banter among the likes of J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, John D. Rockefeller, and other keeps a reader riveted to the page." Chicago Sun Times
"A fascinating peek into the past…A spirited hero, a clever killer, and rich period detail all add to the entertainment." Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
"Monahan's rich attention to detail and his genuinely unique character, the quietly annoying and tenacious LeBrun, make this novel an interesting read." Rapport
"This ingenious novel raises Brent Monahan to the first rank of contemporary entertainers. The real Jekyl Island Club, its members, and many real events from that era are interwoven within a plot that could easily have taken place. Cleverly plotted and delightfully told, The Jekyl Island Club is suspenseful storytelling at its finest. " eMall