Palm Beacher’s debut novel a thriller about rich widow, Iraqi man

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If it weren’t for Gene Wilder, Deborah Royce might not be making her debut as a novelist. The late actor appeared frequently at the Avon Theater in Stamford, Connecticut, a landmark movie house that she and her husband, financier Charles Royce, restored to its ’30s-era glamour.

(The Royces are dedicated preservationists. They received the 2017 Ballinger Award for the restoration of their Palm Beach lakefront home, Lido. See story and photos here.) In a discussion with Wilder, Royce mentioned a screenplay she had never finished. Wilder responded, “Well, are you a writer or not?” Royce decided she was. She set up a writer’s desk on a breakfast table and got to work on a story about an affluent middle-aged widow in old-money chic Watch Hill, Rhode Island, whose life falls out of its tightly organized compartments when the FBI comes to her house to ask her about a man from her past. The man, an Iraqi of Chaldean Christian ethnicity whom she denies knowing, was picked up by the FBI on his way to her oceanfront mansion at the same time ISIS is marching into Mosul, which was once part of the ancient land of Chaldea. Her past is calling. Collect. But she does, indeed, know him. How she does, why she denies it, and why he’s looking for her is the meat of the story. “It’s a literary thriller,” Royce said of “Finding Mrs. Ford.” “It’s not a straight-up potboiler.” Why Chaldea? “There’s something that is so fundamentally mysterious about that part of the world,” Royce said. “I was going to set it right after the invasion of Iraq, but I needed a more descriptive time frame and ISIS marching into Chaldea was more compelling.” The book moves back and forth between Susan Ford’s college years in Detroit and her current situation, which presented a challenge for the author. “There’s two very different mindsets,” Royce said. “One for a 21-year-old, and one for a 55-year-old.” The book was released on June 25, and the early reviews have been positive. “It got a great review on Kirkus,” Royce said, “and the reviews on Foreword have been very good.” >>Read the Kirkus review here. >>Read Foreword review here. A by-invitation book signing to benefit the Preservation Society of Newport County, where Royce is a board member, will take place Monday at the Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. Committee members for that event are Lynn and Armin Allen, Trudy Coxe, Debra and Claudio del Vecchio, Kate and Jimmy Gubelmann, Eaddo Kiernan, Elizabeth and Earl McMillan, Ann Mencoff, Alice Ross, Susan and Don Ross, Betsy Vitton and George Wein. Royce will be among the speakers at The Society of the Four Arts this coming season, when she appears on April 1 as part of the Florida Voices series. She also has appearances scheduled at the Miami Book Fair and Books & Books in Coral Gables. “Finding Mrs. Ford” is available at Classic Books and on Amazon.