A Gilded Grave

Written by Shelley Freydont
Review by Judith Starkston

In A Gilded Grave, Shelley Freydont creates an entertaining murder mystery set amidst the lavish wealth and Victorian strictures of Newport, Rhode Island in 1895. Deanna Randolph, the marriageable daughter of one of Newport’s leading families, finds inspiration for her detecting from the dime novels of the day, but her style as a sleuth is seriously cramped by the necessary six to eight gown changes per day and her mother’s rules of proper deportment. Deanna makes small steps over the class divides of her world and the limitations put on women. She’s bright and daring and willing to overlook being jilted by the one smart, sympathetic man in her world. Together they solve a mystery involving murdered maids. Elspeth, her maid, assists with a clarity of perspective only someone born to poverty seems able to achieve in this extravagantly wasteful world.

You’re likely to identify the villain early on, but complications with a sugar trust and cutthroat business practices add a pleasant sizzle to the puzzle. There’s plenty of fun in the descriptions of clothing and mansions (called “cottages”). Despite the tight constraints placed on Deanna, Freydont shows her readers how far outside the expected mode this young woman acts by juxtaposing her with her best friend, Cassie. Another young lady asks Cassie, “Don’t you think women should think?” Cassie responds, “Oh, I suppose so. When there’s nothing else to do. Though, gee, there’s always something to do.” Deanna, in contrast, is summed up by the local police detective (a Yale graduate) when he says, “If I had even one officer with your brain, the crime rate in Newport would be cut in half overnight.”