Title: A Gilded Grave (Newport Gilded Age Mystery 1)
Author: Shelley Freydont
Publication Date: 2015
Newport, Rhode Island. 1895. It is the height of the gilded age and Newport is the home to the summer mansions of the Vanderbilts, the Astors, and other families who have made their fortunes. Deanna Randolph is making her first Newport Season, and although this is the life she has been born into, she still struggles with all the nuances and mores of society. Her older sister Adelaide is engaged to Charles Woodruff; a marriage that will consolidate the two families’ R and W Sugar Refineries. Deanna’s father attempted to make a partnership with the Ballard family as well, but Joe Ballard, although friends since childhood, rebuffed an engagement to Deanna. Taking an interest in Deanna is Lord David Manchester, a sugar magnate from Barbados, who is staying with his sister Madeline at the Woodruff mansion.
During a ball given to honor Lord Manchester and his sister, the body of a young maid is found. When it becomes apparent that the maid did not fall from the cliffs of her own accord, the social elite are shocked but quickly return to their lives of parties, tennis matches, and social outings. Deanna cannot forget however, and when another maid is killed, she realizes that a lot more is at stake. When vicious gossip puts Joe Ballard near the scene of the crime and his apprentice is jailed for possible involvement, Deanna makes a reluctant alliance with Joe, her maid Elspeth, Sergeant Will Hennessey, and Joe’s eccentric grandmother, Gran Gwen, to discover the secrets within Newport’s high society and the convoluted and sometimes questionable trail of money that gave these families their status and wealth.
I admit that I am kind of an English mystery snob – if it is a historical mystery, then it better be set in the United Kingdom. This story however, did a great job at creating the sense of opulence and excessiveness of the uber-wealthy in the late 1800’s in New England. The author’s talent lies in painting the picture for the reader of the lifestyles and attitudes of the time.
I enjoyed the character of Deanna Randolph. The back cover author comments included two of my favorite authors – Tasha Alexander and Anna Lee Huber. Both of these authors write about female protagonists who don’t quite fit into the norm of their high society; they know what they are supposed to do and what is expected of them. Although they follow the expectations, there is depth in their questions and perceptions of the world around them. Deanna Randolph is a similar character. One of the things that I really liked about her is that she is young – just 18 years old. The author does a great job at blending her naivety and idealism with a sense of responsibility and a questioning nature. Although not all of her decisions and observations are correct, the reader does see her thinking and learning process and recognizes her growth. It will be fun to see her development as a character in potential future books.
Who might like this book:
It is always fun for me to start a brand-new series. There is a lot of potential for future books so I think to be able to watch this character grow will be fun. I also love any book set in New England and the historical setting adds to the atmosphere.