Special Reports

Books chronicle Levy investigation

Author Dominick Dunne at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times)
Author Dominick Dunne at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON — The late author Dominick Dunne reports posthumously that he paid a "very large" sum to settle a slander lawsuit brought by former congressman Gary Condit.

Dunne died in August. But in his last novel, published Tuesday, titled "Too Much Money," the longtime chronicler of the rich and infamous revealed secrets that ranged from his own sexuality to the guilt and pain he felt from Condit's lawsuit.

"The lawsuit changed him," one character says of the Dunne stand-in. "He used to be so fun, full of stories. Now, he hardly opens his mouth at dinner." Technically, Dunne's 275-page book is a novel. With a few exceptions, the character's names are contrived.

But as an account of Dunne's final years, including the circumstances surrounding the Condit lawsuit, "Too Much Money" is rooted in the facts. Many telling details, down to the dollar amount Condit originally sought, come straight from Dunne's own life.

Condit sued Dunne in 2002, demanding $11 million after the author repeatedly suggested that Condit had something to do with the disappearance of former intern Chandra Levy.

Dunne's words are not to be the final ones revolving around Levy's 2001 disappearance. Even as prosecutors prepare to try her accused killer, Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique, other pending accounts underscore the enduring public fascination with Levy's fate.

In the spring, Scribner's will publish a 305-page book about the Levy case authored by Washington Post writers Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham. The book, "Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery," builds on an earlier investigative series.

Condit, too, reportedly has been collaborating with a co-writer. The married San Joaquin Valley politician lost his House seat in 2002 after revelations about his relationship with the much younger Levy.

"I think they're working on a book, that's my understanding," political consultant Mike Lynch, Condit's former chief of staff, said Tuesday. "I've read accounts about it."

Dunne's roman à clef account is an invaluable but not infallible tool for understanding what happened between Condit and the author.

Family confirms truths

Some details have clearly been changed, but Dunne's family members are confirming Dunne used "Too Much Money" to reveal previously hidden truths. These include the fact that Dunne, as he writes in the novel, was "deep within the closet" as a bisexual man who had been "celibate for almost 20 years."

"It's just so typical of him, that he would finally come out, and then leave," Dunne's son Griffin said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Dunne had blistered Condit's reputation in multiple public appearances, where the author had spun various scenarios. Some involved Middle Eastern conspirators and an individual he called a "horse whisperer." Others involved what he called "Condit's motorcycle friends." Condit's subsequent lawsuit was settled in 2005. The details have never been made public.

"The settlement, although less by far than the millions the congressman had sued for, was still very large for someone who lived on a salary," Dunne writes in "Too Much Money." Dunne's character, Gus Bailey, feels regret and acknowledges he spread a defamatory, "bogus" story. He's worried the lawsuit filed by the congressman, named Kyle Cramden, will deprive his children of money.

Dunne writes that the editor of the fictional Park Avenue magazine promises to pay Bailey a bonus that would cover legal expenses, even though the magazine wasn't sued.

The fictional Park Avenue magazine is based on Vanity Fair, for which Dunne wrote. As in the book, Vanity Fair was not named in the congressman's lawsuit.

"Unfortunately, I can't say anything about the settlement," Dunne's real-life attorney Paul LiCalsi said Tuesday, adding that "although the similarities are obvious, Dominick Dunne was a much braver guy than Gus Bailey."

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.

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