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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review - Death of a New American

Today I review the second book in a new historical mystery series set in the Gilded Age.  Although I didn't read the first in the series, that didn't effect the immersive experience of this novel.  If you aren't typically a historical mystery fan, this novel just might change your mind.  The author joined us for a guest post (click here) as well discussing the Gilded Age.

Author: Mariah Fredericks

Copyright: April 2019 (Minotaur) 304 pgs

Series: 2nd in Jane Prescott Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Jane Prescott, ladies’ maid Jane Prescott to the Benchley family

Setting: 1912 (The Gilded Age), Long Island New York

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review (NetGalley)

From the book cover: "In 1912, as New York reels from the news of the Titanic disaster, ladies’ maid Jane Prescott travels to Long Island with the Benchley family. Their daughter Louise is to marry William Tyler, at their uncle and aunt’s mansion; the Tylers are a glamorous, storied couple, their past filled with travel and adventure. Now, Charles Tyler is known for putting down New York’s notorious Italian mafia, the Black Hand, and his wife Alva has settled into domestic life.

As the city visitors adjust to the rhythms of the household, and plan Louise’s upcoming wedding, Jane quickly befriends the Tyler children’s nanny, Sofia―a young Italian-American woman. However, one unusually sultry spring night, Jane is woken by a scream from the nursery―and rushes in to find Sofia murdered, and the carefully locked window flung open.

The Tylers believe that this is an attempted kidnapping of their baby gone wrong; a warning from the criminal underworld to Charles Tyler. But Jane is asked to help with the investigation by her friend, journalist Michael Behan, who knows that she is uniquely placed to see what other tensions may simmer just below the surface in this wealthy, secretive household. Was Sofia’s murder fall-out from the social tensions rife in New York, or could it be a much more personal crime?"

Jane Prescott is one of those characters you fall in love with quickly and by the end want to spend more time with her.  She is brave, a mixture of worldly with a touch of innocence remaining, and navigates the class structure with intelligence and grace.  Her own backstory is fascinating.  Louise Benchley is the young lady Jane serves as a ladies' maid.  Louise, being married in part for her money, starts as awkward and a push over, but by the end she has come into her own and gains some steel - which I wanted to cheer over.  
Michael Behan, a journalist, is a mixed bag.  At times he seems unscrupulous to get a story, but at other times seems to want the truth. You might be tempted to think he would be a romantic interest for Jane, who often challenges him and his reporting, but that isn't likely.  Charles Tyler, uncle to the groom and guardian, is the police chief who is waging a war against the rising Italian mafia while also controversially embracing Italian immigrants and hiring several on his staff at work and home.  Charles' wife, Alva Tyler, had been a wild and free spirited society girl more at home on safari - until she had a children and settled down.  She is a character you like and yet wonder about simultaneously.  Sophia, the victim, was so well portrayed in her few scenes that you stand with Jane wanting to see justice done in her murder.

The rich and privileged Long Island mansion is the setting for most of the story with a few scenes in New York city.  All of which take the reader back in time to Little Italy of the city and the era's gilded glory with its tarnished realities.

Was Sofia letting a mafia hit-man or kidnapper in through an open window and got killed in the process?  Because that is the quick conclusion and the plot revolves around Jane seeing major problems with that scenario and searching for answers.  There are subplots of Charles Tyler and the Black Hand plus the nation recovering from the Titanic tragedy intermixed with the rampant prejudice against Italians and woman's suffrage.  All of which immerse the reader in the era.  Once I had read the first few chapters, I was hooked and I raced through the book.

The killer reveal was tearful and a shock as what happened dawns on you, with an added touch of flirtation with danger.  It will stay with me a long time and it was handled brilliantly for maximum effect. The finishing chapter was longer than most wrap-ups, but well worth it.

This book is a gem and I find myself wanting to go back and read the first, A Death of No Importance, in the series while I wait for the third to be published.  Even with the serious topics touched on in the book, there is a hilarious scene that sticks with me as much as the emotional killer reveal.  The writing style is smooth and flowing. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend. 

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