It might seem unusual for an exhaustively researched and scrupulously objective biographical work to be dedicated to its subject, but Empty Mansions is an extremely unusual book. Bill Dedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, came across the story of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark in 2010. A year later she would die, a fortnight short of her 105th birthday; another year after that, nineteen of her relatives, with whom she had had barely any contact during her lifetime, went to court to claim their share of her $300 million fortune. Dedman’s researches brought him into contact with Paul Newell, a younger cousin of Clark (but not in line to inherit anything from her) with an interest in family history who had never met Clark but who’d been speaking to her on the telephone since 1994.
Together they embarked on Clark and her family’s extraordinary and almost unknown story. ‘Though no work of non-fiction can pretend to map anyone’s interior terrain,’ they write in their introduction, ‘the Clarks have left enough bread crumbs to lead us back into their fairy-tale world.’
In fact, the story begins as