Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell (Gilded Newport Mysteries #1)

murder_at_the_breakersEmma Cross, a society reporter and poorer Vanderbilt relation, borders on respectability with her re-styled gowns and a summer cottage inherited from a forward-thinking aunt. It is 1895 and Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt II are re-opening their summer cottage, The Breakers.

When one of Cornelius’ business associates is murdered and Emma’s brother is arrested, everyone but Emma ignores the possibility of another suspect within the hundreds of guests. Emma winnows down the choices in this rousing who-dunnit, the first of a new series by debut author, Alyssa Maxwell.

Maxwell, a history lover who married into an old Newport family, recreates the dynamic relationships within the Vanderbilt household. The cobblestone streets and beach mansions of Newport become the setting for family intrigues and murder. A subplot introduces Emma’s potential romantic partners if they can match her independence and sense of adventure which frequently get her intro trouble.

Emma must grow into getting out of scrapes on her own if the series reader is to believe in her plausibility as an independent detective. Emma’s investigation will keep you guessing who is responsible for the Murder on the Breakers, all the way to its clever, semi-comical ending.


This review first appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Historical Novel Society. A copy of the book was provided for the purpose of a review.

 

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Death Rides The Zephyr by Janet Dawson

dawson_deathDecember 1952. Jill McLeod is a Zephyrette, a stewardess on the California Zephyr (CZ), which is making its Christmas run from California to Colorado. Jill hopes for a quiet run until a rock slide forces the train to a standstill, stranding passengers on board with a thief and a killer. As a Zephyrette, Jill has direct access to every passenger aboard, making her the most likely candidate to find the missing loot and discover the crooks’ identities.

Dawson’s extensive research into train life is translated into a moment-by-moment account of life on the CZ, and we are privileged to see every aspect of being a Zephyrette, from dealing with rude customers to the ticket colors used when scheduling luncheon and the dinner hour. The well-detailed nature of the piece does affect the pacing, which at times feels slow, and dampens the suspense of the actual murder, which comes much later than anticipated.

The highlight of the novel is the Vista-Dome experience as we can only imagine it, a pleasure dome with unobstructed views of the Sierra Nevadas, Great Basin, and the Colorado Rockies. Train lovers will love this glimpse of a life spent riding the rails on this unique streamliner that originally operated from its inauguration on March 19, 1949 to its final westbound run from Chicago to Oakland on March 22, 1970.

This review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.

Anything But Civil by Anna Loan-Wilsey (Hattie Davish Mystery #2)

loan-wilsey_anythingThirty years have passed since the Civil War erupted, and feelings still run deep in the town of Galena, Illinois, where Hattie Davish, a traveling secretary, is assisting Sir Arthur Windom-Greene, her wealthy employer, in the research of a biography. General Cornelius Starrett is the subject, and his quiet Christmas is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of his son, Henry. Henry stirs up long-buried memories of the war, and when he’s found dead, Hattie’s budding Pinkerton-like traits are put to work to uncover the killer. Readers of A Lack of Temperance will appreciate callbacks to Hattie’s previous adventures in Eureka Springs and the reappearance of Dr. Walter Grice. Like the men in Hattie’s life, the reader will find her keen intelligence insightful and her naiveté endearing. Hattie has a plethora of colorful suspects to consider before Christmas Eve, making this a perfectly cozy murder mystery read, just in time for the holidays.

This review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.

The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz

schwarz_edgeJourney to the wilds of California’s Big Sur region, where secrets are hidden in the dense fog at The Edge of the Earth, the newest book by New York Times bestselling author Schwarz. The stars of this book are the setting and its inhabitants: the isolated Point Lucia Lighthouse, where young, naive socialite Gertrude “Trudy” Swann and her new husband Oskar run away to work and study in 1898. The Crawley family, austere Henry and formidable Mrs. Crawley, and her brother, Archie Johnston, jointly keep up the lighthouse. The Crawley children, Mary, Edward, Nicholas and Jane (who opens and closes the story), are constantly underfoot, and their tales of a “mermaid” quickly reinforce the need for Trudy to take up the role as the lighthouse’s sole teacher. Trudy’s life changes irrevocably when she discovers the secrets of the light station in the caverns below.

The atmospheric Big Sur is a departure from the Midwestern locales of Drowning Ruth andSo Long at the Fair and far more isolated than Los Angeles is in All is Vanity. The oppressive fog that envelops the lighthouse’s rocky outcropping obscures the wilderness beyond, creating an atmosphere that feels as cold, isolating and as removed from civilization as young Trudy comes to experience firsthand. Schwarz harnesses this setting, hides a few family secrets, and slowly unveils them with a steady amount of suspense, but the pacing could be quicker. The juxtaposition of innocence and corruption is telling and may be off-putting to readers who prefer lighter fare. Fans of Schwarz’s previous novels will quickly recognize her signature approach of delving into the human spirit as Trudy and Oskar take divergent paths to achieving the desires of their hearts.

This review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.

Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni (Angelology #2)

trussoni_angelopolisTen years after the Times Square incident, Verlaine has become a lethal angelologist, a hunter, but is haunted by his lost love, Evangeline. A chance encounter before Evangeline is kidnapped leaves Verlaine with an exquisite clue to a mystery touching upon the Romanov Dynasty and the seeds of ancient civilization. While he pursues Evangeline’s captors, Verlaine begins to unravel a secret that could ensure the destruction of all Nephilim.

Angelopolis, the sequel to Danielle Trussoni’s New York Times bestseller, Angelology, is an exhilarating chase as modern angelologists pursue the Grigori family and a warrior class angel from the rooftops of Paris to the Trans-Siberian Railway and an island along the Black Sea. Trussoni interweaves historical figures like John Dee and Rasputin with familiar Biblical stories including the Annunciation and the Deluge.

The decade gap between books glosses over the development of Verlaine’s abilities and readers may find some of his decisions to be out of character from the academic introduced in Angelology. Where Angelology introduced readers to Trussoni’s alternate history, Angelopolis thrusts us deeper into the heart of angelic origins, the fate of the Watchers, and a final confrontation between humans and angels, which Trussoni, perhaps, might call an Angelgeddon.

This review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.