A Gilded Grave
Newport Gilded Age Mystery, Book #1
By Shelley Freydont
Author’s website: http://www.shelleyfreydont.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
In 1895, the height of the Gilded Age, the social elite spend their summers in Newport, Rhode Island. Within the walls of their fabulous “cottages,” competition for superiority is ruthless … and so are the players.
During her first Newport season, Deanna Randolph attends a ball given in honor of Lord David Manchester, a Barbadian sugar magnate, and his sister, Madeline. The Manchesters are an immediate success—along with their exotic manservant and his fortune-telling talents.
But on the nearby cliffs, a young maid lies dead—and suspicion falls on Joseph Ballard, a member of one of the town’s most prestigious families.
Joe humiliated Deanna when he rebuffed an engagement to her, but while he may be a cad, she knows he isn’t a killer. Now the reluctant allies must navigate a world of parties, tennis matches, and séances to find the real murderer. But a misstep among the glittering upper classes could leave them exposed to something far more dangerous than malicious gossip…
A Gilded Grave, the first book in Shelley Freydont’s new Newport Gilded Age Mystery series, is a delight. This well-crafted historical mystery transported me to the opulent world of the Gilded Age, and I cannot wait to return.
The year is 1895, and it is custom for the most eminent of the upper class to summer in Newport, Rhode Island. This is Deanna Randolph’s big year as she is being presented to society with hopes of making an acceptable, and profitable, marriage match. For most of her life it was expected that she would marry her father’s business partner’s son Joseph and combine the R & W Sugar Refineries families. However, Joseph caused a bit of scandal when he called things off with Deanna and announced that he would not return to New York but stay in Newport to work on his inventions for sugar refining. Though humiliated, if truth be told, Deanna really wishes she could capture a bit more time as a child, with the freedoms that childhood allows.
She is looking forward to the first ball of the season and meeting Lord David Manchester, a sugar plantation owner with whom R & W hopes to do business, but is horrified to find Joe in attendance. Things take a dire turn when one of the host’s maids is found crumpled and lifeless at the base of the cliffs during the ball. Did Daisy jump or fall? When it becomes apparent that she was pushed, Joe, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, becomes the prime suspect. As a member of the upper class, albeit a bit of a black sheep at present, the police surely will not place blame on Joe. The police soon set their sights on Daisy’s boyfriend, who also happens to be Joe’s assistant and Deanna’s ladies maid’s brother, Orrin. Deanna and Joe call a reluctant truce and set out to prove Orrin’s, and ultimately Joe’s, innocence.
Ms. Freydont does a great job of taking the reader on a journey through time to the late nineteenth century. Newport provides a lush backdrop with all the glitz and glamour that defined the excess of the Gilded Age. I was captivated by the descriptions of ball gowns, vast ballrooms and mansions, and the mores of the elite. There are also glimpses of the bleaker life of servants “below the stairs” that are equally interesting. Deanna’s unconventionally familiar relationship with her ladies’ maid Elspeth provides some of the most touching moments in the book, and I really like Deanna. Though suppressed by the trappings of what is proper and expected, she does not hesitate to do what she thinks is right and just, conventions be damned. She is wise beyond her year, vivacious, curious, and intelligent. Joe, though offered a bit more freedom as a man, is also confined by what is expected of him, and I love his devil-may-care attitude about it all. He is equally likable, and the interplay between the pair is charming.
There is a touch of romance included and the smart writing has a cozy feel to it, but A Gilded Grave is a true historical mystery. There are plenty of well-drawn characters from which to cull suspects, and Ms. Freydont kept me guessing throughout. The final plot twist, which I will not disclose here, came as a surprise yet resolved things nicely. This novel affords a fascinating look at the dark side of the upper class, and I look forward to future adventures with Deanna and Joe. Highly recommended.