There is something otherworldly about hotels, especially the fancy ones. Meant to attract the wealthy, or those who wanted to be wealthy, they featured imposing lobbies, commanding bars, palatial event halls and comfortable rooms. Professional staff could all a guest to feel, that just for a moment, they were lord or lady of the estate, with all the hired help one could ever need.

For all their glitz, glamour and glory, hotels are a weird liminal space. People are coming and going after a few days. When hotels became residences, they were still a sort of in between home for many. Dozens of lives play out in close proximity, meeting at odd points then diverging into fractured paths once again.

The Belvedere was, and still is, such a hotel. Today it is a residence with ballrooms, a bar and restaurant. It serves as a wedding venue, a meeting space, and a place for a first date as well as home for its long-term tenants.

Owl Bar at the Belvedere. Maryland Historical Society.

One of those residents, Mikita Brottman is like many of us. Going through her normal daily routine — work, errands, amusements — she notices a “missing” poster outside of her building. Unlike most of us, she becomes intrigued by the disappearance. Then, when his body is found on the roof of her hotel, she becomes obsessed. She begins her own investigation, with this book as the result.

Brottman lays out the case simply, though the emerging details are anything but. Clues don’t add up. Solutions fall apart on the last step. Over the course of a decade, Brottman collects reports, statements, drawings and photographs. She makes her own visits to the rabbit warren of rooms just below the roof. She looks at it from every angle she can think of.

The fact that the elevator is locked probably means that housekeeping is preparing the twelfth-floor ballrooms for an event later in the day. While there are a few private parties, office get-togethers, and corporate gatherings at the old hotel, the Belvedere’s soaring ceilings, elegant ballrooms, and glittering chandeliers make it one of the most popular venues for wedding ceremonies. For a few years, when D. and I first moved into the building, a room was kept free on the fifth floor for the bride and her attendants to dress in before the wedding. On more than one occasion, a drunken wedding guest, opening the wrong door, blundered into our apartment in bow tie and tux only to find us sitting watching a movie in our pajamas. ~Pg. 191

Her book is not simply a recounting of facts. Brottman injects mini-essays throughout. Her ramblings around Baltimore inspire thoughts of decay and rebirth. Musings on the mystery inspire research on the connection between hotels and suicide.

It takes a couple of chapters for her pacing and style to catch on but once it does, and the story is more outlined, it gains traction. After reading four chapters, finishing it becomes its own obsession.

My rating: 

I received this book as a gift. It was not from the publisher.

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (November 6, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250169143
ISBN-13: 978-1250169143

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