With her first thriller, The Lost Night, author Andrea Bartz took us behind the close-knit, closed-door world of circa-2009 Brooklyn, where pretty young things partied in warehouses until the wee hours of the morning — all fun and games, until someone winds up dead. With her sophomore thriller, she leads us inside an equally exclusive but very different community: an elite, all-female coworking space in Manhattan with sun-splashed interiors and creative, ambitious members who would look at home between the pages of a fashion magazine. The workspace's name stretches across the wall behind the check-in desk: THE HERD.
Eleanor Walsh, the company's charismatic founder, is queen inside the Herd's plumeria-scented halls, and among her confidants are Hana, a close friend from college, and Hana's sister Katie, a quick-witted journalist who's just returned to New York. When Eleanor suddenly disappears the night of an important event, Hana and Katie must uncover the haunting truth before they lose their friendships, their careers — maybe even their lives. The Herd just came out in March, and it's already making most-anticipated lists and scoring stellar reviews.
In the excerpt below, Bartz shares a scene between Katie, a journalist who had just moved back to New York after a year of book research blows up in her face, and her literary agent, Erin. Katie has been dodging Erin's calls since she moved back to Brooklyn, so Erin finally tracks her down to confront her — when Katie promptly tells her she couldn't write the nonfiction book she'd spent the last year working on.
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"Unless you have another brilliant book to write instead, we go back and tell them you're pulling out. And we pay back the advance." Erin's palms settled on her stomach. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
My mind hurtled after it like a drowning person spotting a hole in the ice: another brilliant book to write instead.
There are a lot of angry men in the world.
Hana had said it, just an hour ago. And just before that—
I said it without thinking, the idea booming out of me like a cannonball.
Erin raised an eyebrow. "The Herd founder?"
"And beauty magnate. She's fascinating, right? And incredibly private."
She's a huge deal. People are kind of obsessed with her. Hana had said that too.
Erin propped her elbows on her knees. "What about her?"
"I know her well. Since high school. I'm joining the Herd—I signed the paperwork today." An exaggeration, but only a small, convenient one.
She cocked her head. "What are you saying?" Her eyes grew wide. "An authorized biography of Eleanor Walsh? Would she let you do that?"
"Maybe more of, like, an oral history of the Herd?" I tilted forward, buoyed by her interest. "I could talk to Eleanor and everyone else involved in its creation. People are enchanted by her. And it. There are forums online that strategize about getting in and make guesses about her personal life based on her Instagrams and stuff. And some people hate Eleanor and the Herd." I balled my hands into fists. "There's an online community called the Antiherd. And apparently angry dudes send her death threats and stuff. Oh, and today there was graffiti on the wall in one of the rooms that said 'ugly c*nts.' No one knows who broke in to do it, or how. I could do a part memoir, part investigation, part unauthorized oral history starting with this weird hateful tagging on my very first day—I can try to figure out who did it and trace the Herd's history back to its creation. It could be super of-the-minute."
Erin was nodding, slowly at first, then with fervour. "I could sell that, Katie," she announced. "I could sell the sh*t out of that. But are you sure you want it to be unauthorized? I mean, I'll take juicy over sanitized and PR-friendly any day, but we also don't want you to suddenly get, like, a cease-and-desist."
"Good point. We should slow down." Guilt plunged through me. The last thing I wanted was to piss off Eleanor. . . or Hana, or Mikki, or anyone, really. But the way Erin was looking at me, the excitement in her eyes—this was my shot, the escape route out of the mess I'd made. And I couldn't ask Eleanor now, on my first damn day as a Herder. Er, applicant.
"Let me do some poking around," I said. "I've only been there one day—I'll do some observing and background reporting and I'll start thinking about how to organise it."
"I like the idea of looking into these threats against her," Erin said. "Like, what happens when you're so beloved by women that men hate you, maybe even want to kill you?"
I nodded, remembering with a harpoon of shame how Hana had described Eleanor's calculated dismissal of her haters. She'd said the worst thing you can give an attention-seeker is attention, and here I was, about to throw a floodlight on the haters. Hana and Eleanor would come to understand, wouldn't they? I was desperate. "She's very buttoned-up, so I want to approach this carefully." Teleanor—that's the only side she showed the media. For this to work, I'd have to bust beneath the shiny veneer.
"I'll do some research and, when I have a better sense of what I want to do, I'll talk to my sister. She does their PR and she's best friends with Eleanor, so she'll know how to handle it." She'd know how to sell this to Eleanor as an opportunity, not an affront. She had to. Eleanor was kind and good and understanding.
This has to work.
"Perfect," Erin said, sitting up. "Well, good thing I stalked you. I left you, like, three voicemails today, Katie."
"Four," I replied, rising to see her out.
Once she'd left I rummaged around for a notebook, determined to act before the obnoxious angel over my shoulder could whisper it aloud: This is a terrible idea.
Unmasking the Herd, we could call it. Or just Inside the Herd—that was better. Or Unmasking Eleanor? I found a pen and pressed a half-used notebook open, rifling for an empty page.
But it was a notebook from Michigan, interview notes and jotted-down details, and my mind swung to the subtleties I'd been catalogueing in secret: Chris's thick, unruly eyebrows, the spatter of freckles, fingertips skimming over my neck, my waist, the back of my knee. Then a scene change: the bright cymbal crash of humiliation when the EMTs had burst into the room. I felt a wail rise up through me and fought it, my knuckles pressed against my lips. No. I had to get to work.
I Googled Eleanor and began printing out profiles that'd been written about her—a big one in The New Yorker, breathtakingly sexist, and frothier ones on Goop, Time, Cosmopolitan, The Cut. Mikki and Hana occasionally appeared in the photos with her, which was a little odd, since neither was a full-time employee. To their benefit: Hana had no interest in dropping her other clients, and free-spirited Mikki couldn't be tied down—she was an artist, dammit, not a forty-hour-a-week packageing designer. Yet Eleanor always made it clear they were her work wives and closest confidantes, three corners of a power triangle. The living embodiment of what she'd said in our interview this morning: "Wonderful things happen when passionate women and marginalized genders come together."
With any luck, those wonderful things would extend to the nosy journalist, the oral historian eager to get it right. I gathered my printouts in a manila folder, and hope billowed in me for the first time in months.
Excerpt from The Herd by Andrea Bartz, copyright © 2020 by Andrea Bartz. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.