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 magnate 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…
About the Author
Alyssa Maxwell began a love affair with the city of Newport when visiting friends there back in her high school days. Time and again the cobbled lanes and harbor‑side, gas‑lit neighborhoods drew her to return, and on one of those later visits she met the man who would become her husband. Always a lover of history, Alyssa found that marrying into a large, generations‑old Newport family opened up an exciting new world of historical discovery. From the graveyards whose earliest markers read from the seventeenth century, to original colonial houses still lived in today, to the Newport Artillery Company whose curator for many years was her husband’s grandfather, Newport became a place of fascination and romantic charm. Today, Maxwell and her husband reside in Florida with their two adult daughters, but part of her heart remains firmly in that small New England city of great significance, a microcosm of American history spanning from before the Revolution through the Civil War, the Industrial Age, the Gilded Age, and beyond. For more info please visit www.alyssamaxwell.com.
Read an Excerpt
Murder At Beechwood
A Gilded Newport Mystery
By Alyssa Maxwell
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Lisa Manuel
All rights reserved.
Newport, Rhode Island, June 29, 1896
I sat up in bed, my heart thumping in my throat, my ears pricked. I'd woken to a high-pitched keening, an eerie, unearthly sound that gathered force in the very pit of my stomach. There had been no warning in last night's starry skies and temperate breezes, but sometime in the ensuing hours a storm must have closed in around tiny Aquidneck Island. I knew I should hurry about the house and secure the storm shutters, yet as I continued to listen, I heard only the patient ease and tug of the ocean against the rocky shoreline, the sighs of the maritime breezes beneath the eaves of my house, and the argumentative squawking of hungry gulls flocking above the waves.
With relief I eased back onto my pillows—but no. The sound came again—like the rising howl of a growing tempest. Throwing back the covers, I slid from bed and went to the window. With both hands I pushed the curtains aside.
And stared out at a brilliant summer dawn. Long, flat waves, tinted bright copper to the east, mellowed to gold, then green, and then a deep, cool sapphire directly beyond my property. The sky was still a somber, predawn gray, but clear and wide, with a few stars lingering to the west. Like polished silver arrows, the gulls dove into the water with barely a splash and swooped away to enjoy their quarry.
I could only conclude I had been dreaming, even when I'd thought I was awake. Well, I was certainly awake now. I grabbed my robe, slid my feet into my slippers, and quietly made my way downstairs.
I needn't have muffled my footsteps, for as I entered the morning room at the back of the house I found Katie, my maid-of-allwork, as well as Nanny, my housekeeper, already setting out breakfast. The inviting scents of warm banana bread and brewing coffee made my stomach rumble.
"You're both up early," I said.
"Mornin', Miss Emma," Katie replied in her soft brogue.
Nanny's plump cheeks rounded as she bid me good morning, her half-moon spectacles catching the orange flame of the kerosene lantern. "Something woke me. I'm not quite sure what."
"That's so odd—me as well." I picked up the small stack of dishes and cutlery on the sideboard and carried them to the table, noticing the web of small cracks in the porcelain of the topmost plate. Katie looked at me uncertainly, then half shrugged and made her way back to the kitchen.
She had been in my employ for a year now and had yet to grow accustomed to the informal machinations of my household. At Gull Manor we never stood on ceremony; there was no strict order of things, but rather a daily muddling through of tasks and chores and making ends meet. That was my life—by my choice and by the gift of my great-aunt Sadie, who had left me the means to lead an independent life.
Part of that gift included this house, a large, sprawling structure in what architects called the shingle style, with a gabled roofline, weathered stone and clapboard, mullioned windows framed in timber, and enough rooms to house several families comfortably. Set 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. Yes, it was drafty, a bit isolated, and required more upkeep than I could afford to maintain it on the proper side of shabby, but it was all mine and I loved it.
Katie returned with a sizzling pan of eggs, and I asked her, "What about you, Katie? What brought you down so early?"
"Oh, I'm always up before the sun, miss. A leftover habit from being in service." She placed the frying pan on a trivet on the sideboard and whirled about. "Oh, not that I'm not still in service, mind you...."
"It doesn't always feel like it, though, does it?" I finished for her.
"No, miss. And for that I'm grateful. Now ... I'll go and get the fruit...."
Nanny, in a faded housecoat wrapped tight around an equally tired-looking nightgown, heaped eggs and kippers on a plate, placed a slice of banana bread beside them, and went to sit at the table. I did likewise, and when I'd settled in and picked up my fork, I hesitated before taking the first bite. "Have you seen our guest yet this morning?"
Nanny shook her head. "That sort doesn't rise with the sun."
"Nanny! That's unkind. Please don't refer to Stella as 'that sort.' We agreed—"
"We agreed, but I still worry that you're crossing a line, Emma. Out-of-work and disgraced maids are one thing, but ..." She pursed her lips together.
"Prostitutes are another," said a voice behind me.
Nanny glanced beyond my shoulder and I twisted around to see the figure standing in the doorway. Stella Butler wore my old sateen robe buttoned to her chin. Her ebony hair, tamed in two neat plaits, hung over each shoulder, making her look anything but a jaded woman. The bruises with which she had arrived at Gull Manor had faded, thank goodness. High cheekbones and slanting green eyes marked her a beauty, but today that beauty struggled past obvious fatigue and the downward curve of her mouth. She met our gazes with defiance, but the spark quickly died. She bowed her head and released a sigh.
"I'm sorry. I'm grateful to you, Miss Cross. I promise I won't stay long and I'll pay you for every scrap of food I eat."
I stood and pulled out the chair beside my own at the round oak table. I gestured to the well-worn seat cushion. "You'll stay as long as you need, and as for payment, I'm sure we'll work something out, something mutually beneficial."
Nanny harrumphed. Without another word Stella scooped up a small portion of eggs and a slice of banana bread I deemed too thin, and returned to the table. I was about to admonish her to take more, that she needed to keep up her strength, but thought better of it. Stella obviously had her pride, and if she was going to carve out a better life than the one she'd been living, she would need pride as much as strength.
"I'll be back in a moment," I told them. "I'm going to see if the newspaper came yet."
"I would think the storm kept the delivery boys from venturing out at their usual time," Stella said without looking up.
"You too? This has been the strangest morning." I glanced out the window. The sun had fully risen, gilding our kitchen garden and the yard beyond. A few fair-weather clouds cast playful shadows over the water. With a shrug I headed for the front of the house, my slippers scuffing over the floor runner. Ragged edges and the occasional hole suggested the rug needed replacing, but it would be some time yet before I could justify the expense.
It was as I reached the foyer that the wind suddenly picked up again, sending an unnerving shriek crawling up the exterior façade to echo beneath the eaves. I hadn't been dreaming. What kind of a strange storm was this?
Bracing for a blustery onslaught, I opened the front door.
"Nanny! Nanny!" I shouted and fell to my knees. Here was no gale battering my property, or any other part of the island on which I lived. The keening and the cries I'd heard, that had yanked me from sleep, were not those of a summer squall.
They were those of a baby, tucked into a basket and left on my doorstep.CHAPTER 2
Land sakes ... What on earth?"
Nanny bent over me as I gathered blankets and whimpering child into my arms. Gently I lifted it—him? her?—from the basket and stared in mute astonishment at the little face, red and wrinkled and damp from tears.
Watching from the doorway, Katie gasped and Stella let out a whispered oath. The silence that followed declared them as shocked as I.
"Oh, Nanny," I said, staring at this tiny person in disbelief, "how long can it have been here? I heard it crying ... but I didn't come. I never thought ... Who would leave a baby on a doorstep?"
Nanny being Nanny, she placed her hands on my shoulders and helped me to stand. "Let's get this child in the house and see if we can't figure out what on earth is going on here."
The first thing I did, after handing the child over to Nanny, was run to the alcove beneath the staircase, where my uncle Cornelius had had a telephone installed for me. First, I telephoned Jesse Whyte, a detective with the Newport police and an old friend. He wasn't at the station, however, and when the man on the other end of the wire asked if I wanted to leave a message, I hesitated, then said I'd call back and quickly hung up.
I stood for a moment with my hand on the ear trumpet where it dangled from its cradle. Why had I been unforthcoming with a member of the police? Didn't I have to report this incident? Yet the very thought of revealing too much too soon, and to the wrong people, raised a prickly warning at my nape. I trusted Jesse Whyte implicitly, and I would wait for him before making my next move, whatever that would be.
However, there was one other person I trusted. I lifted the ear trumpet and turned the crank.
"Operator. How may I place your call?"
"Good morning, Gayla." I knew I would have to trade pleasantries before I could proceed. Gayla and I had known each other all our lives.
"Oh, hello, Emma. How's everyone out your way?"
"We're just fine, Gayla, thanks." I noticed my foot tapping and held it still. "And you?"
"My father's gout is acting up again."
"Sorry to hear it." She started to go on, but my impatience was building. "Gayla," I interrupted, "would you connect me with Dr. Kennison, please?"
"Oh, dear. No one's sick, are they?"
"No, no. It's ..." I thought a moment, crossed my fingers, and improvised. "Nanny is due for her appointment, is all. But she's fine. So ... please, Gayla."
"All right. Hold the line...."
The next half hour passed in a blur of activity. Katie had carried the basket into the house and discovered a feeding bottle and containers of Mellin's powdered baby milk that had been tucked in with a small supply of diapers.
"At least someone thought of his immediate needs," she said, though her tone implied that this someone hadn't risen much in her estimate. She proceeded to loosen the swaddling and peeked inside. "He's a boy!" Delight twinkled in her eyes.
Meanwhile, Stella had gone upstairs to rummage through the spare bedrooms for light blankets and extra linen we could fashion into swaddling and yet more diapers. Aunt Sadie never had children, so there would be no ready supply of baby necessities stored away in a cedar chest in the attic. As Nanny sagely pointed out, you never could have enough linen on hand where an infant was concerned, and at this point we didn't know how long our visitor would be staying with us.
One thing was certain: This child had been dropped off once, and it wasn't going to happen again, at least not on my watch. I wouldn't be leaving him at the police station or packing him into my buggy for a drive up to St. Nicholas Orphanage in Providence. Gull Manor had already proved itself a haven for strays, and this poor mite was nothing if not that.
In the parlor, I reclaimed him from Katie's arms and sat with him on the sofa. Being no stranger to infants, Nanny had boiled water and mixed a quantity of the Mellin's, so that when he began whimpering again she had the bottle cooled and ready. "By my estimate," she said, twisting to tighten the seal of the rubber nipple, "he's no more than two or three weeks old. A month at the most."
"So young!" Stella entered the parlor and deposited the results of her search on the sofa. "Who would do such a thing?"
"Someone desperate," I replied, looking down as if speaking to the child nestled in my arms. "Someone who had no other choice."
My gaze strayed from the child to Katie, who sat on the floor at my feet, her face turned up to me.
"Someone with nowhere else to turn," she whispered. Tears filled her eyes and my heart broke for her, for I knew she was remembering the unborn child she had lost a year ago last spring—the child who had been forced upon her by an unprincipled youth, and who had resulted in her being fired from her position at The Breakers, the home of my Vanderbilt relatives on nearby Ochre Point.
While Katie blinked her tears away, I carefully tipped the bottle and touched the nipple to a pair of rosebud lips. Those lips immediately opened, drew the nipple in, and latched on with a strength that startled me and made me grin. Sucking noises filled the silence.
"Desperate or not, it's horrible to abandon a baby on someone's doorstep." Stella tossed her head, sending one braid swinging over her shoulder. "Only a selfish, wicked person would do such a thing."
Nanny turned to her with a patience she hadn't previously shown the young woman. "You don't understand. The person who left this child knew about Gull Manor. That's why she came here. It's why you knew to come here. Because Emma would never turn away anyone who needed her help. That's what Gull Manor means here in Newport."
"That's right, you're safe here," I said, this time intentionally speaking to the child. He took no heed, too intent on drawing nourishment into his tiny body. All the while, the bottle moved subtly against my palm to the rhythm of each greedy suck. "You may be small, but you're determined, aren't you?"
By the time the milk was nearly gone, those little greenish blue eyes, which had been staring up into mine as if to impart some vital wisdom, began to droop. The others had settled around the room to watch, but now Nanny came to her feet.
"Unless I miss my guess, this little one is in need of a diaper change and a nice long nap." She reached for a folded linen square from the top of the pile we'd made. Stella had also managed to gather an assortment of safety pins, which she'd deposited on the sofa table.
With a twinge of panic it struck me that I had never changed a diaper in my life. In fact, this was the first time I'd fed a baby, and while he had really done all the work, I surmised such would not be the case with diaper changing.
"I'll do it." Katie accurately interpreted my hesitation. She stood and reached for the baby. "I'll take him into the kitchen."
I hesitated in handing him over. "Have you ever done this before?"
She showed me an indulgent smile. "I'm the second oldest of six, Miss Emma."
"I'll help." Stella followed her out of the room, surprising me. I hadn't previously suspected her of harboring maternal instincts. Or was that simply my preconceived prejudice, based on her life previous to arriving at Gull Manor? I loathed to think I'd been judging Stella, that I had in any way blamed her for falling into the oldest profession. As Aunt Sadie had taught me, a woman did what she must to survive, and it behooved the more fortunate among us to help where and when we could.
"What are we going to do?" I asked Nanny once we were alone.
"Do?" She tucked a wiry gray curl into her kerchief. "I believe we're doing it."
"Yes, but, Nanny, we can't keep this baby."
"Can't we? Whoever it belongs to either doesn't want him or can't keep him."
"But even if that's true, there could be relatives who would take the child in if they knew he existed. We can't assume no one wants him."
"Then what do you propose we do?"
Before I could reply, Katie called out my name from down the corridor. A moment later she passed through the doorway with one arm outstretched, a bit of lace dangling from her fingers. "Look, Miss Emma. This was tucked into the baby's blanket. I don't know how we didn't see it sooner."
"Where is he? Did you leave him alone?" Frissons of alarm shot through me.
She frowned slightly. "Of course not. Stella's finishing up with his diaper. Seems she grew up with four younger brothers and sisters."
"Oh, yes, of course. I'm sorry." I wondered at my strong and instant reaction to the idea of Katie having left the baby unattended, that the person in whose charge I had left him had returned without him. It seemed I harbored some surprising maternal instincts as well, and the smile dancing in Nanny's eyes told me she'd noticed, too.
I held out my hand. "Let me see what you've got there."
Katie dropped into my palm an embroidered handkerchief edged with lace—no ordinary lace, mind you, but an intricate pattern shot through with golden silk threads. Puzzled, I searched for an initial worked into the embroidered design, but there were only flowers.
"This was costly," I said.
Katie nodded her agreement. "Do you suspect the mother might be a lady of quality?"
"I don't know. I suppose a maid could have gotten hold of this handkerchief, but the question would be why?" I fingered the tiny yellow and pink flowers and curling pale green vines embroidered on the linen portion of the handkerchief. This was meant to dangle from a manicured hand during a ladies' tea or luncheon, or to ward off a sheen of perspiration during a garden party. "This isn't here by chance. I'm fairly certain of that."
"A clue, then," Nanny said, reading my thoughts as she so often did. "Someone wants us to know where this baby came from."
"A rather obscure clue, though. With no initial or crest of any sort, this could belong to anyone and have come from anywhere, even off island. For all we know, someone brought the child over on the morning ferry."
"Not so, at least not this morning." Nanny reached to take the handkerchief and crossed the room to hold it in the brighter light of the front window. "We all heard what we believed to be a squall before sunup. The morning ferry wouldn't have arrived yet."
Excerpted from Murder At Beechwood by Alyssa Maxwell. Copyright © 2015 Lisa Manuel. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good writing. Period specific. Treated the time and it’s cultural quirks quiet well!
I have visited Newport, RI and have taken tours of Breakers and Marble House. They are utterly breathtaking! I wish I had gone to Beechwood, too, because it seems to be a little warmer than the two I visited. Ms. Maxwell does another fine job describing the Gilded Age and how it pertains to women of all “classes.” She has written a complex plot that I couldn’t figure out until near the end. I enjoy her books and look forward to reading the next one in the series. Her other series is also a great read, taking place in the years between WWI and WWII.
Another great book by Alyssa Maxwell! Enter into the realm of the rich and famous and see the rich and famous are just as vulnerable as the poorer of society, whether great or small problems follow us all even the great and the small! RCR
Very enjoyable murder mystery. I love the way this author writes.
Dollycas’s Thoughts I absolutely love this series! Emma Cross is a smart protagonist and I love following her through 1896 Rhode Island. She is a brave woman who sticks up for those in need. This time it is a baby left on her doorstep and she will not rest until she finds his mother, even when it puts her own life in danger. Gull Manor has become a refuge over the years for prostitutes and abused women wanting a fresh start and Emma has vowed to keep up the tradition even though many do not approve. She never expected a newborn would find its way to her door, a newborn that steals the heart of everyone at Gull Manor. Nor did she realize the sweet child would be connected to such tragedy. Alyssa Maxwell bases her story on actual families, like the Vanderbilts and the Astors and crafts a tale that will will enthrall you from the first page until the last. She takes us into the world of the elite 400. Their lives, their parties, their indiscretions and their drama. The characters are so well written, the plot is enticing and the setting is described wonderfully. The story is perfectly paced with generous detail. Each new story in this series becomes my favorite as the author keeps topping herself.
Once again the author has managed to capture the reality of life in the late 1890's in Newport, Rhode Island. The attention to detail is marvelous. Our heroine's social and moral dilemmas are quite believable and worth our attention. All in all, another good job by Alyssa Maxwell
I loved this newest Emma Cross tale. I couldn't put it down. And I certainly hope there will be more Gilded Newport Mysteries in the future. I have loved the series so far. I love the fact that there are an entire cast of characters that are in each book - and that Emma is such a strong and CARING person. It is her love and belief in her fellow humans that keeps her searching out truth. "As Aunt Sadie taught me, a woman did what she must to survive, and it behooved the more fortunate among us to help where and when we could." I love this idea that permeates each book.
Another great book in the Gilded Newport Mystery series. Alyssa Maxwell has a way of taking you back in time with such ease. Once you start reading you feel like you're a resident in Newport, possibly even living at Gull Manor with Emma, Nanny and whoever else may be there. Anyone is welcome there, not like at all her rich relatives extravagant homes. There is always excitement around when it comes to Emma and Murder at Beechwood definitely has a lot of that. From the moment Emma finds a newborn baby at her front door early one morning she is determined to track down the parents and find out why the baby was left at Gull Manor. Although she is a Vanderbilt cousin she is not treated as such and has to be very careful when she approaches some of the society's richest summer residents. Travel back in time to an era where the richest and wealthiest families have some of the best kept secrets. Get to know Emma and see how she secretly follows clues in order to reunite the baby with his family.
This was a wonderful read. I couldn't put this book down. The story is about a woman who had decided that she like being independent. And found a baby on her doorstep, she had her maid, a friend who was a ex-lady of night living with her. She was from a family that was of prestige and money but she felt she didn't fit in with the rest of them because her parents did have the money that the others had. She would accept hand me down gifts from her cousin which gives her clothes to wear at social functions and she comes to find out about a murder. Which was of the mother of the baby she was protecting. I very much loved the suspense in the book and the description of the area and time it was written. Thank you for writing such a wonderful novel.
I was given an ARC of MURDER AT BEECHWOOD. I loved the two previous books, and Alyssa Maxwell has done it again with a wonderfully told tale of the crème de la crème of Newport, Rhode Island, at the turn of the century. This third book in the series takes place in and around the summer "cottage" of the Astors, who were the Number One family of the Gilded Age. Once again, readers learn about the lives of the actual participants as well as enjoying a fictional story based on the real events. The settings are sumptuous, the characters well-drawn, the plot devious, and the pacing breathtaking. Emma Cross finds an infant left at her doorstep and decides to do what she can to find the mother. Along the way, she stumbles across several deaths mysteriously linked to the very same infant. How she solves the mystery of the baby as well as finding the solution to all the various and sundry murders make an extremely enjoyable read for fans of cozy mysteries as well as historical fiction.
Murder at Beechwood by Alyssa Maxwell is the third book in the Gilded Newport Mystery series. Emmaline “Emma” Cross is awakened one morning to what she thinks is a storm. Upon further investigation Emma finds a baby crying on her front porch. There is no note left with the little boy. Soon Officer Jesse Whyte (with the Newport Police) arrives because a coachman was murdered nearby and needs Emma’s help on the case (Jesse is finally asking Emma for help on difficult cases). Jesse and Emma believe the baby and the coachman cases are related (the coachman was most likely the one to leave the baby on Emma’s doorstep and then killed so he would not talk). Emma promises to see if she can find out who the mother of the child is while she is at the ball. There is to be a ball that evening at Beechwood for the beginning of the season. Emma is given a beautiful gown by Grace Wilson to wear to the ball. Neily (Corneilius Vanderbilt III) and Grace are still dating despite opposition from Neily’s family. Emma does not get a lead on the baby’s mother at ball, but she will try again the next day. The next day is the yacht race. However, there is a tragedy at the race. A storm comes up which makes for rough seas. Virgil Monroe goes overboard. Derrick Andrews tries to save him, but he is unsuccessful. Wyatt Monroe thinks Derrick actually held his father, Virgil under water instead of trying to save him. Jesse has no choice but to place Derrick under arrest (he gets house arrest). Emma sets out to find out if Virgil was murdered or if it was an accident (she may have turned down Derrick’s proposal, but Emma still cares for him). Emma believes that what happened to the coachman, Virgil, and the abandoned baby are all connected. Emma, along with help from her friends and relations, sets out to solve these mysteries (you just know that she will somehow manage to put herself in harm’s way). I give Murder at Beechwood 4 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed Murder at Beechwood more than the first book in the series. The mystery is complex and more difficult to solve. There are so many characters in the book that it is difficult to keep track of all of them (and they all seem related). I enjoyed the descriptions of the lovely homes. I am hoping, though, that Emma and Jesse are put together as a couple. I think they would be perfect for each other. A better match than Emma and Derrick. I received a complimentary copy of Murder at Beechwood from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are strictly my own.
As soon as I finished the first Gilded Newport book, Murder at the Breakers, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite series. This series consistently delivers all the things I look for as a fan of historical mysteries - period details, a sense of immersion in the time, informative but not heavy-handed historical/social context - but it gives much more than that. There is an ongoing story, a story of a family and the possibility of romance, that is a through line which really keeps you coming back for more. This particular entry is probably my favorite so far. I really enjoyed the way that the two mysteries - the one of the abandoned child, the other of a mysterious sailing accident aka murder - weave together and play off of each other. One of the things I like about Emma Cross, the main character, is that she, as a self-suficient poor relation and a woman to boot, is sort of an outsider character. I like outsider characters, and I like that her status has her questioning the social mores and expectations of the time, while at the same time allowing her to work outside of them. The friction between what a lady should do and what Emma does do is really a great momentum in the narrative. I like also how the mysteries sprung up somewhat organically and in a believable way. Not that she stumbled upon yet another corpse in her garden ditch. Obviously, mystery series require a bit of suspended belief, but I'm never caught thinking that this could never happen. The romance(s) which started in the first book continue into this one, and continue to be cloudy for Emma. I like how the question of motherhood further complicates Emma's thoughts on being an independent woman, or a woman of independent means as it were. If you like Gilded Age, late Victorian, Edwardian, Downtown Abbey kinds of milieu, this is definitely something you should be reading. I would say start with the first one, just to get all the bits of personal history, but really you can pick any of them up and have a great read with nothing lost. Also have to say I am very much looking forward to Maxwell's new Lady's Maid Mystery series, starting with Murder Most Malicious, set in post-WW1 England later this year. Can't wait to see her turn her hand to the landed gentry of England!
In Murder at Beechwood, as in the two previous books in this series – Murder at the Breakers and Murder at Marble House -- Alyssa Maxwell winningly combines real settings and historical characters with real and fictional events. I was delighted to receive an advance reading copy in return for an honest review, and I can honestly say that Alyssa Maxwell writes historical mysteries that are fun to read, hard to put down, and enjoyable and satisfying in every way. One thread of mystery is introduced immediately as Murder at Beechwood, set during the Gilded Age in Newport, Rhode Island, begins. Heroine Emma Cross, a lesser relation of the wealthy Vanderbilt family, opens her front door to find a baby abandoned on her doorstep. After a visit to Beechwood, home of the Astor family, where guests watch a boat race, a storm breaks over the bay, and a family member dies a suspicious death, Emma immediately begins sleuthing to solve that mystery as well. The boating murder and the baby mystery converge in surprising ways. The extended families and their guests provide plenty of intrigue and lots of suspects. While the time period may be known as the Gilded Age, the characters are not all of sterling quality, harboring jealousies, keeping secrets, and flying into rages that add complexity to the story. The book brims with rich descriptions of the coast and the sea, of the homes and neighborhoods of Newport, and of life during Newport’s summer social season. The author’s detailed research is evident. Rather than being distracting, these details lend terrific texture to the story and add to the enjoyment of reading this book.
Newport, Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island) - June 1896 Emma Cross is a poor relation of the Vanderbilt family. She lives in her small home, Gull Manor, with her Nanny who is now her housekeeper. Her parents moved to Paris to pursue their artistic abilities. Emma works as a reporter for the Fancies and Fashions Page of the Newport Observer newspaper. In this job, she is able to report on the social scene with the Vanderbilt and Astor families as they still invite her to attend. Emma is a very independent young woman with no plans for marriage or a family anytime soon. When she awakes one morning, she hears a sound at her front door and finds a tiny baby boy on her doorstep. Tucked into the baby’s blanket is a handkerchief with a distinctive patterned lace edging. She and Nanny immediately take care of the baby as Emma begins to investigate where he came from. She reports her find to her friend and admirer, Jesse Whyte, a detective for the Newport police. At an afternoon party Emma attends at Mrs. Astor’s, a storm comes up just as two sailboats with guests of the party begin a race. When a guest is lost overboard, Emma and the police wonder if it could be murder. When Emma and her cousin are attacked while examining the damaged sailboat, she knows for sure that someone is trying to scare her off and the sailboat accident has to have been intentional. This is the third book of the author’s Gilded Newport Mystery series. I have read the other two books and enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed this one. In addition to a good mystery, it’s fun to get a glimpse into the lives of the Vanderbilt and Astor families.