Good Rich People and the Bad Games They Play

            Lyla and Graham Herschel like to play games. Not board or video games. Too boring for this ultra-rich restless couple who live in a home high up in the Hollywood Hills and not too far from Graham’s overbearing mother who would certainly win any mother-in-law from hell contest.

            No, the games they like to play involve destroying people’s lives. And that’s what they intend to do to Demi Golding, who they believe is a high earning executive at a tech company.

            In Good Rich People, Eliza Jane Brazier, sets up an unwitting match between these heartless trio and Demi, who is homeless. But they don’t know that. By luck—and the cunning of those always on the brink of catastrophe—she has the necessary information to take them up on an offer to live on their property.

            Typically, son, mother, and wife set people up so they lose everything—their jobs, reputations, and money. But Demi doesn’t have any of those to lose and she’s learned how to survive during her tumultuous childhood, a skill she really needs to try to outwit the threesome who, suffocating with boredom, have upped their game to include murder.

            Brazier, who lived in London for years but now resides in California, knows a little bit about homelessness and having to scrabble to survive. After moving to England, she lost her job and was lucky enough to be taken in by a kindly man who would become her future husband.

            “He was always taking people in and helping them,” she says about her musician spouse who is now deceased.

            The jobs she was able to find didn’t pay enough to give her security and so what writing about the ultra-rich versus the poor really resonates.

            It’s typical of Brazier to draw upon her experiences for her books.

            “I worked at a ranch in Northern California which is where my book, If I Disappear, is set,” she says in a phone interview where she’s working on her fourth book. Her third, set in Los Angeles where she lives, is already written.

            When I ask her if the real ranch was as creepy and weird as the one in her book, she laughs and tells me it was worse. Wow.

            Life is different now with the success of her books. Brazier says she was always a storyteller but didn’t have confidence in her writing ability. When she finally decided to give it a try, she spent a lot of time honing her writing skills and learning the business. Now, she not only is writing mystery novels but also is developing If I Disappear for television.

            “It’s still unbelievable,” she says about the turn her life has taken. “I’m still somewhat in denial.”

‘True crime’ inspires fiction thriller

“I’m destined to disappear,” Rachael Bard tells the listeners of her true crime podcasts.

Eliza Jane Brazier

For Sera Fleece, whose life is tumbling down around her as she dwells upon each of her many perceived failures and seldom leaves her home, her time is totally focused on every episode — each one dedicated to a missing or murdered woman. She thinks in terms of the episodes and absorbs the details Rachel reveals about her personal life. Sera knows she lives on Fountain Creek Ranch in the yellow house somewhat distant from her parents’ home and the barns, stables and quarters for the campers who fill the ranch in the summer.

And then, one day it happens. There are no more podcasts and no more social media posts. Rachel has disappeared.

“I know, the first 48 hours are crucial,” Sera tells herself. (After all, she doesn’t talk to anyone else — not her ex-husband who still cares, or her parents, or even the clerks she interacts with when she finally is able to get herself out of the house to buy tea.) “And every hour you don’t update, I think, ‘Something is wrong.’ I think, ‘The case is going cold.’”

So begins “If I Disappear” (Berkley Hardcover 2021) by Eliza Jane Brazier, which follows Sera as she drives to northern California in search of Fountain Creek Ranch.

“I will use the things you told me,” she says to Rachel, promising to find her.

But it doesn’t look promising. Somehow she missed the turn for the ranch, and stopping in the little town where Rachel went to school and where her best friend disappeared when they were high school students, she finds that no one will even mention its existence.

Turning back, she finds the ranch’s entrance, noticeable because what is supposed to be a tourist attraction has signs reading “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” posted on the drive.

“The setting came from a job I took in northern California that got weird at an isolated dude ranch. I won’t go into details, but the truth is very nearly stranger than fiction,” Brazier said when I ask about the eerie setting she created. “The emotion came from finding myself single again after my husband died. And the hook came from my love of true crime.”

Like Sera, Brazier says she was looking for answers but in a different way than most.

“After my husband died, I found that the grieving process really replicated true crime podcasts: you are searching for answers,” she said. “I found a lot of comfort in them and still do to this day. For me it’s about facing your fears, making order out of chaos and also about control. In true crime, you know the bad thing is coming. It can be a way to address trauma and feel less alone in it.”

Playing detective, Sera is hired by the Bards to work with the horses, a job that allows her to search for clues to Rachel’s disappearance. Her searching arouses suspicions but startlingly, she realizes that no one seems concerned about Rachel’s disappearance besides Sera. Rachel, she learns, has disappeared before and will do so again. At the ranch, Sera finds meaning not only in her investigation but in working with the horses and her developing romance with the ranch manager.

Yet that doesn’t stop her search for Rachel, or the overwhelming feelings that there are many dangerous unknowns surrounding her. Was Rachel involved with the ranch manager and what happened to his wife? Did she really go back to Texas like he says. Is it possible he’s a murderer?

Brazier, a screenwriter and journalist who lives in Los Angeles, is currently developing “If I Disappear” for television and writing another mystery.

“It’s a brutally funny thriller about very bad rich people,” she said.

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This story previously appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times:

https://www.nwitimes.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/books-true-crime-inspires-fiction-thriller/article_acce7dc7-16c5-5e85-8824-7862f579cf62.html

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