28 May 2015 No Comments
For Newport, Rhode Island’s high society, the summer of 1896 brings lawn parties, sailboat races…and murder.
Having turned down the proposal of Derrick Andrews, Emma Cross has no imminent plans for matrimony—let alone motherhood. But when she discovers an infant left on her doorstep, she naturally takes the child into her care. Using her influence as a cousin to the Vanderbilts and a society page reporter for the Newport Observer, Emma launches a discreet search for the baby’s mother.
One of her first stops is a lawn party at Mrs. Caroline Astor’s Beechwood estate. But an idyllic summer’s day is soon clouded by tragedy. During a sailboat race, textile magnet Virgil Monroe falls overboard. There are prompt accusations of foul play—and even Derrick Andrews falls under suspicion. Deepening the intrigue, a telltale slip of lace may link the abandoned child to the drowned man. But as Emma navigates dark undercurrents of scandalous indiscretions and violent passions, she’ll need to watch her step to ensure that no one lowers the boom on her…
Published: May 26, 2015
My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★
Having grown up in Massachusetts, the Newport mansions were a kind of fantasy place, existing in our space but separate just the same. I toured through them all several times, imagining what life was like for those wealthy elite of the gilded age. This book uses that backdrop as a launching point. The famous Newport families of the late 1800s come to life on these pages, fictionalized, though still very much true to who they were.
As merely a poor relation of the Vanderbilts, I held no place among that hallowed number, but what good was it to hold the most extravagant ball of the summer unless representatives from every newspaper in town, not to mention those from New York, Boston, and Providence, were there to capture all the sumptuous details?
The setting is certainly the author’s strength. She clearly knows the history of this area, with its summer residents and extravagant parties. Even if you’ve never set foot in one of these mansions as a tourist, you’ll likely have a good sense of their opulence.
St on a low, rocky promontory on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Gull Manor was a very New England sort of house, one that seemed almost to rise up from the boulders themselves and have been fashioned by the whim of rain, wind, and sea.
Emma is not the typical woman of her time, being more concerned with her independence than with marrying the right man. Her character is well developed and easy to like. This book is written in first person, so we spend all our time with Emma, and we see others through her eyes.
Frankly, that the woman addressed me at all left me flustered. Despite my Vanderbilt relatives, most of the older guard – especially those allied socially with Mrs. Astor – considered me only slightly above the status of servant.
The plot unfolds slowly. We follow the clues along with Emma, as her quest to find one answer only leaves her with more and more questions. At times the unraveling plot and its cast of characters feels a little too much like a soap opera, though I suppose that’s also true of the real-life families within those Newport mansions.
Coaxing information out of a tipsy widow might not have been my most honorable act, but when it came to investigating murder, no methods were off-limits.
I did not read the prior books in this series, and had no trouble following along with this story. It works well as a stand-alone. That being said, there are a whole lot of characters here. If you’re unfamiliar with the names of those early Newport families, you might have difficulty keeping up and should probably read the earlier books first.
*I received a free advanced copy from Kensington Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*
Thanks for reading.