Late nineteenth-century Newport, Rhode Island, is home to some of America’s wealthiest citizens. For society reporter Emma Cross, a less well-heeled cousin to the illustrious Vanderbilts, trailing gossip and glamour will lead her straight into murder . . .
Covering a polo match for the Observer, Emma’s job is to take note of the real players off the field—Newport’s well-bred elite. But the fashionable façade is breached when a woman in gaudy clothing creates a scene demanding to speak to the wife of Senator George Wetmore—until she is escorted off the grounds by the police.
The next morning, police detective Jesse Whyte asks Emma to meet him at the Wetmores’ Bellevue Avenue home, Chateau sur Mer, where the senator’s wife, Edith, has mysteriously asked to see her. Upon entering the mansion, Emma is confronted with a crime scene—the intruder from the polo match lies dead at the foot of a grand staircase.
To avoid scandal, Edith Wetmore implores Emma to use her reporter skills and her discretion to investigate. When Emma learns the victim was a prostitute—and pregnant—she wonders if the senator was being blackmailed. As Emma peels back layers of deception and family secrets, she may have met her match in a desperate killer who will trample anyone who gets in the way . . .
About the Author
Alyssa Maxwell began a love affair with the city of Newport years ago. Time and again the colonial neighborhoods and grand mansions 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, Maxwell found that marrying into a large, generations‑old Newport family opened up an exciting new world of historical discovery. Today, she and her husband reside in Florida, but part of her heart remains firmly in that small New England city of great historical significance. For more info please visit www.alyssamaxwell.com.
Read an Excerpt
Newport, Rhode Island July 1897
Bits of grass and earth pelted the air as a thunderous pounding rolled down the polo field. Long-handled mallets swung after a ball no larger than a man's open palm. Crack! Each time a mallet connected with the ball, ponies and riders raced in a fresh, ground-shaking burst of speed.
With my pencil and tablet in my hands, I stood just beyond the sidelines, out of danger of being hit with the ball, yet with a view worthy of the highest-paying spectators. As the action sped from one end of the field to the other, about a dozen other reporters and I hurried to follow, back and forth, attempting to discern every pertinent detail of the match and keep an accurate record. The wind and my own momentum plucked at my wide, leg-o'-mutton sleeves and rippled my summer-weight skirts. My hat, at least, I needn't worry about, for at home Nanny had pinned it to my coif and securely tied the ribbons beneath my chin. Her last words to me were, "Try to bring it home intact please, Emma."
The skies over Aquidneck Island had finally wrung out their clouds and cleared to a vibrant, porcelain blue. Bracing ocean breezes counteracted a warm sun, making this a day for sportsmen and spectators alike to rejoice. An exuberant crowd of local Newporters blanketed Morton Hill in a teeming medley of hats and parasols, while closer to the sidelines, the wealthy cottagers from Bellevue Avenue occupied seats in the covered grandstand or lounged on lawn furniture beneath shady pavilions. From wicker hampers drifted the savory aromas of roasted meats and baked delicacies, while copious quantities of champagne for the elders and lemonade for the young people flowed from crystal pitchers.
Most of those present cheered each time the mallet of a Westchester player connected with the ball. The Westchester Polo Club had officially made Newport their home a decade ago, and familiar names occupied the team list. Today they played the Meadowview Polo Club of Long Island, not only the season's favorite, but also last year's champions.
Grumbling had heralded the opening of the game, a controversy stemming from the belief many held that one of the Meadowview players should have been upgraded in his skill rating. Had the Polo Association officials done so, the Meadowview team would have been assigned a two-goal handicap, thus putting the two teams on a competitive par. Had clandestine funds changed hands among the Polo Association's Competition and National Handicap Committees, resulting in Meadowview's rating remaining the same? Such a transgression could be difficult to prove.
I didn't know who had been the most disgruntled when the usual handicaps were announced, the Westchester players, the wealthy gentlemen who were known to place hefty wagers, or the working men watching from Morton Hill, who risked a day's pay or more in hopes of doubling or tripling their money.
Another thwack sent the eight riders, four in red shirts, four in blue and white stripes, about-facing and hurtling down the field yet again. I admit I cringed often, so certain was I that men and beasts couldn't possibly avoid pulverizing one another. Perhaps it was because, as a reporter covering the event for the Newport Observer, I daren't look away but must carefully view every swing and every advance across the field. The sure-footed ponies — horses, really, most being a mix of Thoroughbred and quarter horse and standing between fourteen and fifteen hands — never collided, and somehow those mallets never sent anything but the ball and grass flying.
Still, it was to my relief that a bell rang out, indicating the present seven-minute period, called a chukker, was nearly at its end. It was enough time for James Bennett of the Westchester team to recover the ball from Meadowview and send it, with the help of his teammate Oliver Belmont, across the field and through the Meadowview goal. The halftime horn sounded amid uproarious cheers from the grandstand and the hill beyond. Ladies clapped while gentlemen rushed to one another shouting new odds for the eventual outcome of the match.
The horses were walked off the field into a fenced pavilion where they would be unsaddled, watered, and rubbed down. Another set of eight would replace them for the next chukker following the break. In the meantime, gentlemen in morning coats and top hats escorted ladies in colorful day dresses and wide, beribboned bonnets onto the field. A six-piece band struck up a lively tune. The stomping of the divots began, accompanied by a good deal of laughter and lighthearted shrieks.
Replacing dislodged bits of earth to the field hardly interested me, and I had already recorded the most notable of fashions sported by today's gathering of the Four Hundred — that magical number of guests who could fit inside Mrs. Astor's ballroom and thus claim their place in illustrious society. The latest designs of the likes of Worth, Redfern, Rouff, and Doucer were well represented. I therefore moved off the sidelines toward the surrounding pools of shade cast by sweeping beech, elm, and ash trees, where other spectators went to stretch their legs. Perhaps, if I paid careful attention, I might discern the seeds of a real news story.
"Emma! Emma, do come and join us!"
The hail came from a stunning young woman dressed in pale green silk that set off the brilliance of her auburn hair. She wore the latest from Worth, of course. She always did. I changed course to greet her beside a bright blue pavilion sporting golden tassels that flashed in the sun.
"Grace, how lovely to see you." I tucked my pad and pencil into my purse. "When did you and Neily arrive in Newport?"
"Emma, don't be so formal." Grace Wilson Vanderbilt, my cousin's wife of one year, drew me into an embrace and kissed my cheeks in the European manner. "We came in only yesterday and are staying with my parents. We knew we'd find you here reporting on the match." She drew back to hold me at arm's length. "Do you never tire of it? Reporting, I mean?"
Before I could answer, my cousin Cornelius Vanderbilt III excused himself to the others beneath the pavilion. I recognized Grace's brother, Orme Wilson, and his wife, the former Carrie Astor, and Carrie's brother, John, and his wife, Ava. They glanced over at me, each raising a hand in casual salute.
Neily paused to pour a glass of lemonade from a frosty-looking pitcher, then ducked beneath the flapping canopy as he stepped out to join Grace and me. As he handed me the glass, the cool condensation against my palm made me realize how thirsty I'd become, scampering along the sidelines. Thank goodness for the recent rains that prevented the billows of dust often raised during a polo match. Holding the glass, I returned his quick embrace with one arm. "How are you, Neily?"
However much I tried, I couldn't keep the concern from my voice. Though my cousin stood as tall and slender as always and was still a couple of weeks shy of his twenty-fourth birthday, he appeared older than his years, world-weary. The bright sun brought particular attention to the fatigue dragging at his features. I would have thought the opposite, that, having achieved his heart's desire in marrying Grace, he would have flourished this past year of their marriage. Yet he looked to me nearly as he had in those days before his wedding last summer, when difficult choices had thrust their weight onto his shoulders and forever changed his life.
"I'm well, Emmaline," he said with neither enthusiasm nor dispiritedness, nor, I noted, a direct look into my eyes.
"Have you seen —"
He shook his head before I could finish asking. "I haven't seen my parents. They know I'm back but they've made it clear I'm not welcome at The Breakers, nor in New York, for that matter."
"I'm so sorry, Neily." His parents had objected vehemently to his marriage to Grace. They considered her family beneath them, and Grace herself to be a gold digger. Ridiculous, for the Wilsons were as wealthy as any members of the Four Hundred. Neily and his father had nearly come to blows over the matter, and would have, except that before Neily's eyes — and my own — his father had collapsed from a stroke from which he still hadn't recovered.
"It's all right," he assured me quietly. "We're staying with the Wilsons."
Grace slipped her hand into the crook of Neily's arm. "Mother and Father are thrilled to have us. And you must join us for dinner soon — quite soon. I'll send an invitation." Her eyes twinkled. "You may bring the delectable Mr. Andrews, if you like."
Neily blanched at his wife's forwardness, but I laughed it off. "I'll come alone, if you wouldn't mind, Grace."
"Oh?" She leaned in closer, our hat brims nearly touching and enclosing us in secrecy. "I had so hoped you and he might ... you know."
"I haven't seen him in a year," I told her. "His planned return from Italy last spring was postponed. I have not had word from him in several weeks."
Grace looked thoroughly dissatisfied, as if the day suddenly threatened rain. I said the first thing that sprang to mind in an effort to cheer her.
"There is someone else I could bring, if I may. Jesse Whyte." My friendship with Jesse, a longtime family friend, had blossomed through the winter and spring, and he now occupied an important place in my life.
Grace made a slight clucking noise in her throat. "Are you speaking of that local policeman?"
"Detective," I clarified.
Her pretty lips turned downward. "It's nothing serious, I hope." She didn't wait for my reply but continued on. "You could do so much better. Neily, surely you agree. Tell her." Neily quirked his eyebrows and shuffled his feet. With a slight shake of her head, Grace turned back to me. "There is no lack of eligible young men in our acquaintance, Emma, and if —"
"Thank you, Grace, but no. Leastwise, not at present." Goodness, didn't I have enough to do, warding off the matchmaking efforts of my two Vanderbilt aunts, Alice and Alva? I certainly didn't need Grace adding to the fray. "I must be moving on now. The match will be resuming in a few minutes and I'll want a good position beside the field."
"Yes, all right. I'll call on you soon, Emma." Grace embraced me again, but I felt a hesitancy that hadn't been there when she'd first greeted me. I had clearly disappointed her and no doubt left her wondering what was to be done with a stubborn, misguided young woman such as myself. Though Grace and I had grown close last summer, I sometimes expected too much of her. As the daughter of one of America's great banking families, she had never known privation, and had rarely been told no. Though kindhearted and generous to a fault, as she had proved countless times, she had nonetheless grown up in circumstances vastly different from my own, and therein lay a gap between us that could never fully be breached.
I squeezed Neily's hand, imparting my loving acknowledgment that all was not well with him, and my willingness, no, eagerness, to lend a sympathetic ear if he should desire one. Of all my Vanderbilt cousins, I felt closest to him. We didn't need words to make our sentiments clear. He smiled bravely back at me and nodded.
Before I moved away, he said, as if suddenly remembering, "Brady is here with us. He and Miss Hanson went for a walk."
I turned back to him, beaming with pleasure. "Brady is here with Hannah?" Neily responded to my rhetorical question with a genuine smile. He didn't know Hannah Hanson well, but he obviously approved of my half brother's interest in her. When we were children, I'd often brought her with me when invited to visit at The Breakers. Another lifelong friend of ours from the Point neighborhood where Brady and I grew up, Hannah had only just returned to Newport the previous summer after several years away. I scanned the colorful crowd, craning my neck to see around the pavilions.
Brady and Hannah. What a lovely thought. And a surprising one, though perhaps it shouldn't have been. Brady's position at my uncle Cornelius's New York Central Railroad brought him in contact with some of the highest levels of society but, like me, Brady was a Newporter born and raised. And like me, monetary considerations played very little role in his affections.
I didn't spot them presently, but I would make a point of finding them later, during the next intermission. For now, with only a few minutes left to roam the grounds before the next chukker, I tipped my hat a bit lower over my brow. I had worn a day dress given to me by my cousin Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Neily's sister. Though of simple design and a year out of date, the garment nonetheless boasted the quality needed to fit in with this summer's creations of Worth or Paquin — or well enough. Typically, female society reporters clad themselves in modest attire as a way of acknowledging the superiority of those about whom they reported, but today I wished to blend in with the crowd. If I had learned nothing else in the past several years as a reporter, it was how to render myself invisible.
As I strolled, I assumed a leisurely pace as if I hadn't a specific destination in mind. In this way, I moved from group to group without drawing attention to myself — and without prompting sudden breaks in conversations. For it was often such conversations that most interested me at any social gathering, whether it be Mrs. Astor's season-opening ball or a tournament at the Newport Golf Club or one of Newport's many yacht races. During the earlier intermissions I had gleaned hints of several illicit affairs, learned of a dispute concerning James Bennett's desire to expand the Newport Casino, and witnessed the desperate pleas of a compulsive gambler for a loan — a request his elder brother curtly denied him.
I hadn't long to wait for another interesting snippet. I passed a group of men handing round a silver flask. They attempted to be discreet, but I caught the flash of sunlight on the metal surface. The word burglary drifted to my ears. I tilted my head to hide my face beneath my hat brim and pretended to be searching for an item in my drawstring bag.
"There's been quite a rash, and one wonders when these scum will decide shops aren't lucrative enough and come after bigger game. We'll be lucky not to be murdered in our beds." The man who spoke sported a mustache that wandered across his cheeks to meet the bushy profusion of his sideburns.
The thin fellow next to him slapped his shoulder. "Come now, Warner. You think these brigands would have the unmitigated gall to intrude on Bellevue Avenue? They're cowards, preying on the weak."
"Five break-ins in as many days, all along Lower Thames Street," another of the group said. "With accompanying vandalism. That points to thugs with plenty of gall." He shook his head while accepting the flask from the older man on his right, who had his own opinion to share.
"Seems we might be dealing with a single criminal, and these burglaries are not random but in fact part of a pattern."
The others harrumphed noncommittally, but I tended to agree with that last assessment. The robberies they spoke of had occurred at a milliner shop, a purveyor of leather tack, a general mercantile, a bakery, and an apothecary — the one I sometimes stopped in at to purchase Nanny's headache powders. In each case, there had been acts of vandalism that had nothing to do with the actual theft, such as the gouging of countertops and the breaking of glass cases kept empty at night.
I hadn't covered these break-ins for the Newport Observer. Mr. Millford, the paper's owner and editor-in-chief, had judged the incidents too distressing for a woman's delicate sensibilities, and had sent my co-reporter and nemesis, Ed Billings, instead. Not that I hadn't covered similar stories in recent years. I most certainly had. But I knew his decision had little to do with my sensibilities and everything to do with the letters he had received in the past year chastising him for allowing a woman — me — to expose herself to life's more disagreeable occurrences.
Disagreeable, indeed. My nape bristled ever so slightly, as it had when I read each account of these break-ins in the Observer 's morning editions. Now, as then, I couldn't shake the sensation that both Ed and the police were missing some vital clue that connected these crimes and pointed to a single individual.
I reminded myself that these were not my stories to cover. I had my assignment — today's match — though if I happened to stumble upon a more interesting news item, could I be blamed?
Excerpted from "Murder At Chateau Sur Mer"
Copyright © 2017 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
Another enjoyable murder mystery from the Gilded Newport series. Get a look at the life of the wealthy and the not so wealthy Newport era with a modern mystery thrown in.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Step back in time with Emma Cross in Newport, Rhode Island as a day reporting on a polo match leads to murder. A woman tried to make her way into the stands where the elite are watching the match to speak to Edith Wetmore, the wife of Senator George Wetmore. Security was escorted her off the grounds but it is not the last the Westmores will see of her. No, the good senator’s wife finds the woman dead in their home at the bottom of their grand stairway. Police detective Jess Whyte has summoned Emma to Chateau sur Mer. He knows Emma’s help on previous cases has been fruitful, but this time Edith Wetmore has requested her presence. She wants Emma to use her skills to investigate while at the same time keep any rising scandal out of the press. Trying to find a connection between the Wetmores and the dead woman Emma uncovers a web of secrets and lies that puts her own life in peril and others too. It could also cost her her job meaning she could lose her home. Alyssa Maxwell knows Newport history and she uses that knowledge to create fictional stories that have enough real facts that readers may think the story is real and events may have actually happened. She does include some facts at the end of the story to keep the record straight. Strong characters and a captivating mystery make it very easy to escape right into this story. Emma Cross is part of the not very well to do side of the Vanderbilt family. She has inherited her home with enough money to pay for basic upkeep but needs to work for necessities like food and clothing. She is the fashion and food reporter for the Observer newspaper but always keeps her ears open for information to get her byline on or close to the front page. She is a strong woman, unafraid to travel unaccompanied to the seedier areas of town, no matter how many times she is told how dangerous it is. Thankfully sometimes she listens. Other times she is just plain lucky. Emma’s investigation this time to her down to the docks more than once, to a brothel more than once, and even to the scene of a fire. Ms. Maxwell puts our heroine in some precarious situations. I enjoy following Emma everywhere she goes. The author fully describes each place so perfectly, putting us readers right there on the scene. The mystery is very complex. Suspects are unclear until Emma realizes an event from the past is affecting people’s lives in the present. Even then the suspects remain fluid until the final reveal. Usually when I read a mystery like this one my brain is always trying to be one step ahead of the story’s amateur sleuth. This time I was immersed into the culture and all the happenings that I just kept pace with her. I so enjoyed our tandem journey. Like the other mansions in this series, Chateau Sur Mer is now owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County and is open to the public as a museum. I have loved each book in this series. I do recommend they be read in order to understand the settings and the character development.
Once again, Alyssa Maxwell has done a fantastic job of giving us insight into the Newport of the Gilded Age. Unimaginable wealth, strict adherence to social class structure, and a curious murder all make for a great read. Intrepid Emma Cross continues to seek the independent life she believes she wants while solving a perplexing murder and managing the attentions of the two men who love her. Truly could not put it down.
Another wonderful book in this series. The author always gets you caught up in the story from the first page, and weaves the time period and history of Newport and the people of that time as you turn the pages and follow Emma and the rest of the cast of characters right to the last page. My only complaint? Once again, I now have to wait for the next story in the series. And find out what Emma will decide to do with her life. Hmmm. I'll have to wait and see like all the other readers. Bring it on!!!! Hurry, Ms. Maxwell.
I feel like I am going to sound like a broken record when I write a review for one of Alyssa Maxwell's books. Her books are AWESOME !! I cannot say it enough. I don't know that I am giving them justice when I review them. When you read one of Maxwell's books whether it is A Gilded Newport Mystery or A Lady and Lady's Maid book, you are in for a journey ! Murder at Chateau sur Mer is her latest book in the A Gilded Newport Mystery series and while you are reading it you will feel like you took a ride in a time machine. If you have been reading this series, you are very familiar with Emma Cross and her way of life.....her independence and her will to help any one that knocks on her door and even those that don't. And you also know that she somehow gets involved in murder cases whether the police want her help or not. Well Murder at Chateau sur Mer is no exception although slightly different. Although Emma is interested in the murder that occured and, of course, would like to find justice for the deceased, she is taken back when she is asked to look into the death.....by the wife of the husband accused. Emma does not know the Wetmore's very well but everyone knows them to a point, after all George Wetmore is a Senator. Mrs. Wetmore does not believe that the police will do a throrough job investigating the case because the woman that was murdered was a lady of the evening. She knows that Emma is just the right person to ask to look into the woman's death. Emma will stop at nothing when she is on a case. She will go above and beyond what others would shy away from to find justice....even if it means going into a Gentlemen's Only establishment to question a person of interest. As you read you cannot help but fall in love with Emma and you can truly understand how two men could have feelings for her. You can also understand her dilemma about maintaining her independence and wanting to do more in the world than be someone's wife. She is someone for all girl's to look up to and to aspire to be like.....even if she is fictional and from a time long ago. There is so much to say about Murder at Chateau sur Mer, Emma Cross, and Aylssa Maxwell's talent for story telling, but to talk about it and to read it first hand are 2 different things entirely. I highly recommend picking this book up, adding it to your to read list and taking a journey with Emma. You will feel like a different person afterwards......
I like how this series allows me to experience the world of "Gilded Newport". The differences in life for the different classes and men and women is clearly delineated. The main character's dedication to searching for the truth, however inconvenient the search may prove to be, is charming. And we are left with a cliff hanger ending! Bring on the next book!
Really enjoyed this book as I have enjoyed the whole series. It take you back to an easier time with the ability to make it seem like you are there. Definite read!
Newport, Rhode Island - 1897 Emma Cross works as a reporter for the Newport Observer. She is responsible for writing the weekly Fancies and Fashion page. Emma is a poor relation of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. Emma lives in Gull Cottage with her Nanny. Although she has to work for a living, she still does all the can to offer a haven to someone looking for a fresh start in life. Emma is good friends with a police detective and together, they have helped solve some crimes. So, when a prostitute is discovered dead at the foot of the stairs in the home of the wealthy Wetmore family, Emma is called upon by Mrs. Wetmore to help solve the mystery hoping to show that it had nothing to do with her family. This brings Emma in contact with some of the prostitutes in the town, as well as some of the dock workers in the not-so-nice part of town. As some of the wealthy and influential people in town start to get nervous when Emma is around, she knows she is onto something. Emma introduces readers to characters from other books in this mystery series. If you enjoy a well-written mystery which makes you put on your thinking cap as you help figure it out, then this is the book for you. I have read the other books in this series and have enjoyed them very much. Be sure and check out the author’s “A Lady and Lady’s Maid” mystery series as well. Very good! Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Murder at Chateau sur Mer is the fifth book in the Gilded Newport Mysteries series. Another exciting, well-plotted, and told story in this wonderful series. Emma Cross is covering the Meadowview Polo Club match for the Newport Observer. As she is heading for a different vantage she catches bits of conversation of three men of means. They are discussing the acts of vandalism that have been taking place and the unfairness of The Dingley Tariff that is being supported by Sen. George Wetmore. As Emma is approaching the grandstand to learn of the latest fashions the ladies are wearing, she notices a commotion caused by a young lady who seeks to speak to Mrs. Wetworth. She is certainly not a member of society and the police send her on her way. The next morning Emma receives a call from Jesse Whyte, a good friend and detective with the Newport Police, asking her to come the Wetmore home. Upon arriving she sees the body of the girl she had seen at the polo match. She is soon identified as Lilah Buford, a prostitute at the Blue Moon tavern near the wharf. After an autopsy, it is learned that Buford was pregnant. Emma is quite surprised when Mrs. Wetmore, having heard of Emma’s investigative skill in the past, asks her to look into who murdered Buford so her husband's name can be cleared. Emma, even though she is just a “poor relation” of the Vanderbilt’s she is able to use that to gain access to members of society to help with her investigation. She also uses the friendship she has with Whyte to share items that she has learned and to act as a sounding board for other sleuthing trails she might come across. But she also finds herself searching the seamy area around the wharves for clues where she encounters an adversary from the past, Mr. Dobbs. She also gets help from Derrick Andrews, a family friend and who she was engaged to for a short time. I am anxiously the next book in this series to see what adventures are in store for Emma, where her career choice will take her, and if she will decide who will become a romantic interest.