An inexplicable murder, check. Society debutantes. Check. A handsome rogue of a brother who's always in a scrape, check. An even handsomer mysterious stranger dogging the heroine's every step, check, check, check. Murder at the Breakers, the first in a series of cozy historicals by Alyssa Maxwell, has it all.
Maxwell lives in South Florida but vacations regularly in Newport. She fell in love first with the cobbled lanes and harbor-side, gas-lit neighborhoods, and then she met the man of her dreams there. Her close connection to a large, generations‑old Newport family and her love of history have paid off handsomely in this first volume of a new series.
The heroine is the redoubtable Emma Cross, a "minor" relation of the Newport Vanderbilts. Being a liminal figure of the glitterati gives her certain freedoms: she enters and leaves the Breakers at will, but is free to not marry and pursue a journalism career. Now all she has to do is convince her boss at the newspaper to let her write something other than society gossip.
And yet, it is precisely in the bosom of this high society that Emma finds her best stories. And of course, a murder to solve. She has to solve it because her half-brother is accused of the murder and with his checkered past, its unclear if the authorities will take the care required to really prove his innocence or guilt.
What fascinated me about this story was Emma's relation to the other women around her. Her old Nanny who now lives with her almost like a relative; her artsy mother (and father) far away in Paris where they are of no help; her childhood friend from school who married a much older man for his incredible wealth; her cousin Gertrude Vanderbilt, the debutante. Although male policemen, detectives, butlers and handsome heirs to fabulous wealth circle around the investigation, it is really the relationships between the women that tell us something about Victorian Newport.
This book is an excellent beginning to what promises to be an intriguing series. The next in the series, Murder at Marble House, will be out September 29th, 2014.