Murder at the Breakers, by Alyssa Maxwell. Kensington Books. 304 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.
This first entry in a new historical mystery series takes us to the world of the Vanderbilts and other late nineteenth-century families of wealth who enjoyed as one of their special enclaves the delights of Newport, Rhode Island. Ms. Maxwell’s recurrent and detailed tracing of the street map as her protagonist moves back forth across the town is one ingredient that lends authority to this highly imaginative novel. Her story borrows and re-imagines historical characters while providing us many others who only live in these pages.
The central character is young Emmaline Cross, a woman with Vanderbilt blood in her veins but only limited financial resources. She manages a modest inheritance carefully while working as a society reporter. Well bred but straining against the harness of upper crust propriety, Emma is trying to find her equilibrium as an independent woman to be defined not only by her family relationships. Sure, it’s nice to be the niece of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, but that is not how she wants to be measured.
When there is a murder at The Breakers, the splendid residence of the Vanderbilts, Emma is about the closest of anyone to being a witness. When her half-brother Brady is arrested, jailed, and treated like the sole suspect, Emma’s sense of justice and her journalist instinct drive her to find the truth.
Alvin Goddard, Vanderbilt’s financial secretary and advisor, was found bludgeoned and pushed off a second floor balcony at The Breakers to his death. Emma, outside the mansion at the time, saw the body fall but not much else. The police find Brady in a very compromising position and take him into custody. Because he has often been in trouble in the past, only his dearest relatives have any confidence in his innocence. Indeed, Brady is a drinker, and he hardly knows what happened.
His story is that he had stolen some papers connected to a railroad deal, put up to it by someone else. Taking advantage of the turmoil of a grand social event, he attempted to return it to its secure place in Vanderbilt’s office. The suspicion is that Goddard caught him in the act, perhaps threatening him, and Brady felt forced to murder him.
To Emma, such violence does not accord with her sense of Brady’s character. She plunges forward to find out who else might have had reason to murder Goddard. Once candidate is Ted Mason, long-time loyal butler to the Vanderbilts, who had been dismissed after Goddard accused him of stealing some art objects. His reputation in tatters, Mason could have sought the ultimate revenge.
Other candidates include Cornelius III (cousin Neily) and people involved in the manipulation of stock prices and other doings related to the impending railroad deal. Among these is the strikingly handsome Jack Parsons, a good friend of Emma’s parents. Other Vanderbilts, and even Emma’s maid Katie, come under scrutiny as Emma asks endless questions and take endless chances to expose the true murderer and exonerate Brady. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 2, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 3 editions for Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Naples, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, click here: Florida Weekly – Maxwell