Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Length: 336 pages
This is the second book in the Gilded Newport Mystery Series and the second one I've read. I love this time period and all the beautiful mansions and scenery described by Maxwell. The Gilded Age is not covered nearly enough in novels in my opinion and I don't know why as it is such an amazing time in history. These cozy mysteries are a great fit for those of us interested in glimpsing the lives of the rich and the societal norms that governed their daily lives.
Emma Cross is living her life as independently as she is able, being a distant Vanderbilt relative in 1890's Newport, Rhode Island. Her parents have left her and brother Brady to fend for themselves, providing monetarily, but little else. Emma is a reporter for the local paper, although she chafes under the restrictions doled out to her by the mostly male staff and is relegated to writing puff society pieces. She longs for more serious articles and is always looking for an angle to get her noticed and taken as a "real" reporter.
When her cousin, Consuelo Vanderbilt calls her distressed and begging for help, Emma rushes to the family's mansion, Marble House to find Consuelo distraught about being given in a promise of marriage to the soon to be arriving Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo's mother, Alva Vanderbilt is unsympathetic to her daughter's unhappiness and bewildered that she isn't grateful for the chance to marry royalty. Emma is privy to a gathering in which a fortune teller, Madame Devereaux, is called in to read the future of Consuelo and other society ladies present at the mansion. Alva hopes Madame Devereaux will convince Consuelo that all is well and the right decisions are being made. Unfortunately, all goes awry when she doesn't give the answers sought and ends up murdered, strangled with a silk scarf on the veranda. Horrified by the turn of events, everyone is stumped as to why anyone would want to kill the fortune teller. Emma smells something rotten and as a reporter is eager to investigate.
Shortly thereafter, Consuelo disappears and no one knows where she has gone. Frantic to find her, the search begins as all fear the murder and Consuelo's absence are somehow related. When another society woman staying with the Vanderbilts is also killed, real terror sets in that they might not be able to keep everyone safe and find out what has happened to Consuelo. Emma, her brother Brady, and her love interest, Derrick Andrews, a wealthy newsman himself, all work to follow the few clues and discover what is going on.
I enjoyed this story more than book one. I think part of it was I had to get used to the writing style, (I mentioned in my first review of Murder At the Breakers, that I felt the author had a bit too much of a 21st Century "voice") but I was more prepared to accept the way Emma is presented in her time. There was a definite attempt to show the realism of Consuelo and Emma, one forced to marry, and one trying to marry without losing all her independence. This time around Emma seems more authentic in that she is realizing she loves Derrick and might possibly need to come down from her rather lofty perch of having absolutely no one to answer to, yet no love to grow old with either.
The mystery was fun and there were lots of twists along the way. I did begin to suspect who early on but was kept in the dark as to the how and the why. So it was a great ending in that I thought the back story of the murderer and how things transpired was pretty interesting.
What made this book best though was the real history, real historical characters like Alva and Consuelo, and the ending afterword in which Maxwell explains some events surrounding the real Consuelo Vanderbilt and how she was able to weave true events into the story. I love when authors are able to do this effectively, imagining what they might have done, but also staying fairly true to historical facts.
Maxwell also includes other minor characters like maids and gardeners and shows how their stations kept them separated from the rich and details of their lives are included so we see things from both sides. The descriptions of the mansions, clothes, and culture of the time are captivating. I will be continuing with this series as I think this book made me a fan. If you are looking for a light, quick read set during the Gilded Age with a solid mystery thrown in, you will enjoy this one!