Newport, Rhode Island, August 1895: She may be a less well-heeled relation, but as second cousin to millionaire patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, twenty-one-year-old Emma Cross is on the guest list for a grand ball at the Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ summer home. She also has a job to do—report on the event for the society page of the Newport Observer.
But Emma observes much more than glitz and gaiety when she witnesses a murder. The victim is Cornelius Vanderbilt’s financial secretary, who plunges off a balcony faster than falling stock prices. Emma’s black sheep brother Brady is found in Cornelius’s bedroom passed out next to a bottle of bourbon and stolen plans for a new railroad line. Brady has barely come to before the police have arrested him for the murder. But Emma is sure someone is trying to railroad her brother and resolves to find the real killer at any cost . . .
“Sorry to see the conclusion of Downton Abbey? Well, here is a morsel to get you through a long afternoon. Brew some Earl Grey and settle down with a scone with this one.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
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Murder at the Breakers
A Gilded Newport Mystery
By Lisa Manuel
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Lisa Manuel
All rights reserved.
Newport, Rhode Island, August 1895
She awoke that morning to an angry sea battering the edges of the promontory, and gusting winds that kicked up a spray to rattle against her bedroom windows. She might simply have rolled over, closed her eyes again, and sunk pleasantly back into sleep, if not for the—
Here the nib of my pen ran dry and scratched across the paper, threatening to leave a tear. If not for the what? I knew what I wanted to say; this was to be a novel of mystery and danger, but I was having a dickens of a time that morning finding the right words.
As I pondered, my gaze drifted to another page I'd shoved aside last night. Sitting on my desktop inches from my elbow, the words I'd hastily scrawled before going to bed mocked me with their insipidness. "Mrs. Astor Plants a Rose Garden," the title read. Who could possibly care, I wondered. Yet people apparently did care, or I wouldn't have been sent by my employer, Mr. Millford of the Newport Observer, to cover the auspicious event. Not that Mrs. Astor actually wielded anything resembling a garden tool, mind you, or chanced pricking her tender fingers on a thorn. No, she'd barked brisk orders at her groundskeepers until the placement of the bushes suited her taste, and then ushered her dozen or so guests onto the terrace for tea.
I sighed, looking up from my desk to stare out my bedroom window. The scene outside perfectly matched the mysterious one I'd just described: a glowering, blustery day that promised intermittent rains and salty winds. The inclement weather heralded ominous tidings for my protagonist, not to mention wreaking real-life havoc on the tightest of coiffeurs.
No matter, I had no plans to stray from home until much later in the evening. I dipped my pen in the inkwell and was about to try again when from behind me a hand descended on my shoulder.
With a yelp I sprang from my chair, shoving it away with the backs of my knees. I sucked in a breath and prepared to cry out in earnest, but before I could utter a sound, a second hand clamped my mouth.
"Shush! For crying out loud, Em, don't scream. I thought you heard me. Ouch!"
I'd instinctively bitten one of the fingers pressed against my lips, even as recognition of the familiar voice poured through me and sent my fear draining from my limbs. Still, I had no intention of apologizing. Wrenching from his grip, I turned and slapped my brother's hands away.
"Blast it, Brady! What are you doing here? Neither Katie nor Nanny would have let you upstairs without asking me first."
"The front door was unlocked. I called out, but when no one answered I let myself in." A flick of his head sent a shank of damp, sandy blond hair off his forehead—and assured me he was lying. That particular gesture had accompanied Brady's fibs for as long as I could remember. The only truth to his statement was that he'd let himself in.
"You sneaked in, didn't you?" I folded my arms in front of me. "Why?"
"I need your help, Em."
"Oh, Brady, what now?" My arms fell to my sides, and with a sigh that melted into a yawn, I walked to the foot of my bed and reached for my robe. "I suppose you must be in real trouble again, or you'd never be out and about this early."
"Are you going to The Breakers tonight?" He referred to the ball our relatives were holding that evening.
"Of course. But—"
"I need you to do something for me." He threw himself into the chintz overstuffed chair beside the hearth. I remained standing, glaring down at him, braced for the inevitable. "I, uh ... I did something I shouldn't have...."
"Really? What else is new?" Several scenarios sprang to mind. A brawl. A drunken tirade. Cheating at cards. An affair with yet another wife of an irate husband bent on revenge. One simply never knew what antics my half brother, Stuart Braden Gale IV, might stir up on any given day. Or night. Despite hailing from two of Newport's oldest and most respected families—on both our mother's and his father's sides—Brady had seen the inside of the Newport jail nearly as often as the town's most unsavory rapscallions. And on many a morning, I'd paid the bailiff on his behalf more times than I, or my purse, cared to count.
"I want to make it right," he hurried on. "The Breakers will be mobbed later and I'll be able to sneak in, but I'll need your help."
"I don't like the sound of this one bit, Brady. Whatever it is, you know you should just come clean. You can't hide from Uncle Cornelius for long."
Before he could reply, a pounding echoed from the hall below. I heard a tread on the staircase and moments later there came a rap at my bedroom door. With an imploring look, Brady shook his head and put a finger to his lips. He jumped up from the chair and moved to the corner of the room where my armoire would hide him from view. A sense of foreboding had me dragging my feet as I went to the door.
"Good mornin', Miss Emma." Katie, my young housemaid, peered in at me and tucked an errant red curl under the cap she'd obviously donned in haste. Her soft brogue plunged to a murmur. "Sorry to disturb you so early, miss, but Mr. Neily's below. Shall I tell him you ain't receivin' yet?"
"Neily?" A burst of wind rattled the windows, sending a chill down my back. "On a morning like this?" My maid didn't answer, and I managed to refrain from angling a glance into the shadows cloaking my brother. "Thank you, Katie. Tell him I'll be down in a few minutes. Show him into the morning room, please, and bring in coffee."
"Aye, miss." The girl hesitated and then bobbed an awkward curtsy.
I closed the door.
"You won't tell him I'm here, will you, Em?"
With pursed lips I met my brother's eager blue gaze. "He's looking for you, is he?"
"One would assume."
Going to my dressing table, I pinned my braided hair into a coil at my nape, secured the sash of my robe into a knot, and slipped my feet into a pair of tattered satin slippers. In the bathroom my great aunt Sadie had installed before she died, I turned the creaky faucet and splashed cold water onto my face. Ordinarily I wouldn't dream of greeting company in such a state of dishabille, but this was my cousin Neily, here on a blustery August morning hours before he typically showed his face beyond the gates of his family's summer home.
Would I keep my brother's secret? Blindly lend him the help he asked for?
I sighed once more. Didn't I always?
When I stepped back into the bedroom, Brady was nowhere to be seen, though I thought I heard the telltale click of the attic door closing.
Downstairs, I paused in the morning-room doorway. A coffeepot and two cups waited on the table; fruit, muffins, and a tureen of steaming oatmeal occupied the sideboard. Under any other circumstances, my stomach would have rumbled. Not today.
It didn't appear as if my cousin had brought an appetite either, as he hadn't helped himself to any of the repast. I pasted on a smile and stepped into the room. "Good morning, Neily. What brings you here so early, and in such weather? Not that it isn't always good to see you." Could he hear the hesitation in my tone? "Will you join me in some coffee?"
He had been standing with his broad back to me, staring out at the ocean, his dark hair boyishly tousled in the way that had become fashionable among the sporting young gentlemen here for the summer season. He turned, his somber expression framed by the tossing gray waves and the ragged clouds scuttling past like ripped, wind-born sheets.
"Good morning, Emmaline," he said curtly, a civility to be gotten over quickly so he could come to the point of his visit. He held his black bowler between his hands. "Is Brady here?"
I blinked and clutched the ruffled neckline of my robe. For once I didn't bother correcting Neily on my name. I preferred Emma, but my more illustrious relatives insisted on using my full name, as they did with all the girls in the family. "Brady," I repeated. I paused, hating to lie, but for now I'd do what I could to protect my brother, at least until I knew more.
I discreetly crossed two fingers. "You know Brady's never up this early. Is something wrong?"
"He's up today and, yes, something's wrong." His overcoat billowing behind him, he came toward me so quickly I almost backed up a step, but managed to hold my ground. "If I were to look around, are you sure I wouldn't find him?"
Only if you look in the attic. But please don't. Then again, by now Brady might be somewhere on the first floor, perhaps in the adjoining service hallway, listening to every word.
Aloud, I said, "Look all you like." I was sure Neily could hear my heart pounding. "Did you check around town?"
"He's not at his digs, and he's not sleeping it off at any of his usual haunts. This is important, Emmaline, and I need your help. So does Brady, as a matter of fact."
Good heavens, did he think I hadn't figured that out for myself? But I raised my eyebrows in a show of ignorance.
Neily's grip on his hat tightened, leaving fingerprints on the rain-dampened felt. "If you happen to see him, if he shows up here ..."
"Yes, I'll tell him you're looking for him. Now, about that coffee ..." I started toward the table, but Neily's next words stopped me cold.
"No, don't tell Brady anything. Call the house. Immediately. Ask for me. Tell no one else anything. No one. Not even Father."
That reference to Cornelius Vanderbilt II held just enough emphasis to send a lump of dread sinking to the pit of my belly. "You're scaring me, Neily. What exactly has Brady done?"
In a rare occurrence, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, heir to a fortune that had surpassed the $200 million mark a generation ago, shifted both his feet and his gaze, obviously no longer able to meet my eye. "I ... I don't like to say, Emmaline, not just now. It could all just be a ... a misunderstanding."
I strode closer to him. Realizing I was clutching my robe again, I dropped my hands to my sides and squared my shoulders. "What could be a misunderstanding, Neily? Stop being mysterious. If Brady's in trouble, I have a right to know."
"It's railroad business." A faint blush stained those prominent cheekbones of his, raising my curiosity tenfold and making me wonder, Brady's present crisis aside, what business machinations the family had gotten up to now. "Please, Emmaline, that's all I can tell you."
I knew I wouldn't get any more from him. "All right. If I see Brady or hear from him, I'll call. He was invited for tonight, wasn't he?"
Tonight's ball was to be both a coming-out party for my cousin Gertrude and a housewarming event for Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt's newly rebuilt summer "cottage"—an affair that promised to be the most extravagant Newport had ever seen.
"He's invited, but it's doubtful he'll show." Neily started past me, then hesitated, staring down at the patent leather toecaps of his costly boots. "I couldn't help but notice that ... that Katie isn't ..."
Ah. Early that spring, a few weeks after the family had come up from New York to supervise the final touches on The Breakers, a young maid in their employ had shown up at my door, distraught and with nowhere else to turn. Katie Dillon had told me little more than what was obvious, but I'd surmised the rest. I'd been furious with Neily, and vastly disappointed with the cousin I'd known all my life and had come to admire.
"No, Katie isn't," I said coldly. I tugged my robe tighter around me and pushed away images of that awful night of blood and pain and tears. Katie had been in her third month, had hardly begun to show yet. "Not any longer. The child died and nearly took Katie with it."
For the briefest moment Neily hung his head, quite a show of remorse for a Vanderbilt. "But she is ... she's ..."
"Fine now, thank you for inquiring." My tone rang of dismissal. I had far more important concerns than soothing his conscience.
Neily lingered a moment longer as if searching for words. Then he was gone, leaving me staring past the foggy windows to the waves pluming over the rocks that marked the end of the spit of land on which my house, Gull Manor, perched boldly above the Atlantic Ocean.
A half an hour earlier I'd been imagining mysterious happenings, but suddenly I'd entered a very real mystery of my own. Who was the villain? Who the victim?
A step behind me broke my troubled trance. I didn't bother turning around. I knew my brother's skulking footsteps when I heard them. "Right now Neily only suspects I did what I did," he said softly. "If I undo it, there'll be nothing to hide. All I need for you to do is be my lookout later."
I walked to the window and reached out, pressing my palm to the cool pane. "Brady, I don't see why I should help you if you won't trust me enough to tell me what you did."
"Of course I trust you. But it's better you don't know too much. I don't want you implicated."
I whirled, true fear for Brady knotting my throat. His clothes and hair had dried, but his rumpled appearance lent him a vulnerable, lost air that tugged at my heartstrings. "Oh, Brady. If you don't change your ways, someday you'll be beyond anyone's help."
He held up a hand, palm up. "Just keep an eye on the old man, Em. That's all. Right before midnight. Everyone should be in that cavernous hall of theirs toasting cousin Gertrude before the midnight supper. But if you see Uncle Cornelius edging toward the staircase at any time between eleven forty-five and midnight, do something, anything, to stop him. All right, Em? Can you do that for me?"
I regarded his trim, compact frame, his fine, even features, and the smudges of sleeplessness beneath his eyes. Brady was my elder brother by four years. Our parents were alive and well, but living in Paris among all the other expatriated artists searching for inspiration, many of whom had once, in a simpler time, called Newport home. Arthur Cross, my father, was a painter and, yes, a Vanderbilt, but a poor one, descended from one of the daughters of the first Cornelius. Brady wasn't a Vanderbilt at all but Mother's son from her first marriage. His father had died before he was born, a Newport dandy with a penchant for spending rather than earning and who had been presumed dead in a yachting accident, though his body was never found.
With no available parents, somehow I had become the guiding force in Brady's life. Even at twenty-one I was the steadier of the two of us, the more practical, the one who remembered that food and clothing and a roof over one's head couldn't be won at poker or dicing. But when I couldn't guide him, I picked him up, dusted him off, gave him a lecture, and fed him honey cakes and tea. Why that last? Because despite his many failings—and they were numerous—there remained some endearing quality about Brady that brought out my motherly instincts. What can I say? I loved my brother. And I would do what I could to keep him on the straight and narrow.
"Promise me your intentions are honorable," I demanded in a whisper.
"I swear it, Em."
With a nod and an audible breath, I agreed to help him. I just prayed I wouldn't regret it.
At a little after nine that evening, I turned my buggy onto Victoria Avenue and drove the short distance to the end of Ochre Point. Half-stone walls topped by gleaming, curling wrought-iron fences and backed by immaculately trimmed hedges marked the perimeter of The Breakers property along Ochre Point Avenue. Flanked by two pairs of massive stone pillars, the soaring iron gates stood open to the long sweep of drive leading up to the house's hulking outlines, illuminated against the night sky by the interior lights and countless gas lanterns.
Shipley, the gatekeeper, stood ready to turn away anyone who didn't hold up one of Alice Vanderbilt's gilded foolscap invitations. He hailed when he recognized me and waved me on through the gates, chuckling only slightly. He knew as well as I that I'd raise eyebrows driving my own carriage, especially after Aunt Alice offered to have one of her drivers collect me. I hoped I could pass my horse and vehicle off to a footman before either of the elder Vanderbilts saw me and tsked at my "outlandish behavior."
Excerpted from Murder at the Breakers by Lisa Manuel. Copyright © 2014 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
A Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell Wanted to read this book because I am very local to this town. I've yet to visit this museum of a house, maybe this year. Love banter between the woman, Emmaline Cross and her brother, Brady and how he finds himself always in a mess and she is always there to pick up the pieces. He is a playboy and she works for the local paper writing for the society pages and is always invited to the best of the parties. Loved hearing of all of their everyday problems-just like regular people. Controversies of financial ruin, gambling, yachting to name a few of the happenings. Love that the story follows the same streets and places we visit today in the city. When the murder occurs she must help solve it to clear her relative. She fancies a man who combine forces to help one another in each of their missions. So many people but easy to keep track of and there is an excerpt at the end for the next book in the series-can't wait! I received this book from The Kennsington Books in exchange for my honest review.
Dollycas’s Thoughts What an awesome debut!!! Emma Cross inherited much more than Gull Manor from her Aunt Sadie. She inherited her wit and her spunk as well. Her parents have traveled abroad to follow their own dreams and left her to handle everything on her own. Using the small annuity left to her by her Aunt and the wages she earns writing about social events for the local paper she keeps up what she can at Gull Manor. She really is not Cornelius Vanderbilt’s niece. She is actually his second cousin “twice or thrice removed” but she calls him Uncle because she could never call the shipping magnate or his wife by just their first names. They invite her to parties, try to watch over her and hope to find her a suitable husband even though that is the furthest thing from her mind. She is very independent and has little fear of anything and seems to be wise beyond her years. She is a wonderful protagonist. I was engaged by her story immediately. The author introduces us to many wonderful characters, the local Vanderbilt’s of course, Emma’s step brother Brady, her “cousin” Neily, Nanny, who has been at Gull Manor forever, Emma’s maid, Katie, Officer Jessie Whyte, and Derrick “Anderson”. I look forward to getting to know more about all of them and their stories in future installments. What I really loved about this book is that while the story is fictional it is based on fact. A party similar to the one in book actually took place. The author used her research to craft a mystery that was interwoven into a story of a family most of us are familiar with on some level, maybe not back to 1895, but they were one of the riches families in American history. The mystery was a good one too. Emma was not afraid to keep digging and observed many things the local authorities either missed or ignored. She was not afraid to ask the hard questions even when those questions put her own life in danger. She also found an unexpected ally. There was so much I loved about this book. It takes us back in time to a slower lifestyle when visiting meant harnessing up the horse to the buggy and traveling down a dirt road going house to house or manor to manor. This is definitely an author to watch. I can’t wait for Murder at Marble House (A Gilded Newport Mystery) out September 29.
This book keeps you guessing until the last page. Alyssa Maxwell's way with words just blow me away and her characters shine. I can honestly say this was the BEST story I have read in a long time. I will surely keep an eye out for this authors work.
This is a well done look at the life of its time--extremes of money and what they can buy (like police cooperation), class differences, poor relations, etc. The main character is quite likeable and engaging, except for one thing: She is shown more than once acting in a "Too Stupid To Live" manner. Like watching a cheap horror movie and the woman goes into the basement while you are yelling, "Don't go down there!" It is obviously a life threatening action. That said, I will read the other books in the series because this one was interesting.
The strength of the book is its setting (Newport during the gilded age). As a mystery, however, the book is just so-so, both in terms of plot and the quality of the writing.
A good clean read which is rare these days! I look forward to #2 Murder at Marble House!
Keeps your interest thru the whole book, hard to put down.
I really enjoyed this book. So much so that I am definitely moving right along to book number two in the series. I loved the "period" and setting of the story, the "heroine" Emma (Emmaline), and the secondary characters, too. I really was as mystified as Emma with the list of possible suspects. I can definitely recommend this debut novel from this author.
This is rather a slow moving mystery. It really does not hold your interest. Not very well written and the plot is not very good. There are much better mysteries out there.
Murder at the Breakers is the first book in the Gilded Newport series--after reading it, I will absolutely be reading the rest of the series. The main character, reporter Emmaline Cross, is a poor Vanderbilt cousin, which gives her the ability to easily interact with her wealthy family members to try and prove her stepbrother's innocence when he is accused of murder. The characters are well developed, and the descriptions of Newport in the Gilded Age are enthralling. Couldn't read it quickly enough!
Settings and notable figures of the era come alive in Alyssa Maxwell's charming period mystery. A breezy puzzler with an engaging central figure make for great fun; especially for those familiar with Newport's distinguished denizens and luxurious locales!
I just finished reading Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell. It is the first book in the Gilded Newport Mystery series. Murder at the Breakers is an historical cozy mystery. It is August of 1895 in Newport, Rhode Island. Emmaline “Emma” Cross lives at Gull Manor which she inherited from her Great Aunt Sadie. Emma also writes stories on society events for the Newport Observer. Emma is a cousin to Cornelius Vanderbilt (a poor relations, but still a relation). Emma is awakened early one morning by her half-brother Brady (Stuart Braden Gale IV). Emma and Brady share a father, but have a different mother. Brady asks Emma not to tell anyone she has seen him and could she make sure that Uncle Cornelius stays downstairs from 11:45 to midnight at the ball at The Breakers. Brady states he is going to make something right! Emma is used to getting her brother out of scrapes. When Neily (Cornelius Vanderbilt II) arrives asking for Brady, Emma states she does not know where he is at that exact moment (which is true since he had left the attic). At the ball Emma reunites with childhood friend Adelaide Peabody Halstock. Adelaide is now married to Rupert Halstock and they are summering in Newport. Poor Rupert’s health is failing and he is having memory issues. Near midnight Emma realizes she has lost track of Cornelius and Emma wants to warn Brady. She sneaks outside and she can see a light in one of the rooms (the one with the safe). Then a fight breaks out and a man falls over the balcony. At first Emma thought it was Cornelius Vanderbilt, but then realizes it is Alvin Goddard. Alvin was Cornelius’ financial secretary. Brady is found unconscious in the room. Jesse Whyte, detective with the local police department, has no choice but to arrest Brady for the murder. Brady cannot remember what happened. Emma sets out to prove her brother’s innocence (she is very headstrong). Will Emma prove Brady’s innocence? Check out Murder at the Breakers to find out who killed Alvin Goddard. I was hoping to enjoy Murder at the Breakers, but I did not. I found it extremely long (just my perception). It just did not flow. I give Murder at the Breakers 3 out of 5 stars. There are a lot of characters in the book and it is hard to keep up with all of them. I did enjoy Emma’s strong personality and her determination.
Great first book in the series. Can't wait to read more.
Interesting from the start. If you know anything about Newport and its history you will really enjoy it. Liked the authors style.
If you like a mystery that will transport you to a different time, you will definitely enjoy this book. Kept me guessing until the end!
Well written and intriguing. Didn't give away the solution.
Wonderful, well written story! I enjoyed every page getting to know Emma. Excellent writing style, great editing, looking forward to the next installment of Emmas adventures.