Murder at Kingscote (A Gilded Newport Mystery)

Written by Alyssa Maxwell
Review by Susan Lowell

Each book in Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Age/architectural/historical/crime series (Murder at Kingscote is the eighth) centers around one of the palatial summer “cottages” built by 19th-century nouveaux riche (aka robber barons) in Newport, Rhode Island. Maxwell herself has a family connection to turn-of-the-century gilded Newport, which she uses to good effect.

Maxwell’s intrepid amateur detective, Emma Cross, is a pioneering newspaperwoman à la Nelly Bly, always on the trail of a good story or a wicked butler. Recurring characters surround her, including a romantic hunk of a boyfriend with patrician features and a sensual mouth, not to mention a good right hook.

We are in Edith Wharton country, as Newport is where Wharton set her masterpiece, The Age of Innocence, a tragic portrait of a poor relation trying to survive on the fringes of high society. Emma is a poor relation, too, but fortunately, she’s too independent and too busy investigating murders to fret over it—much. And this is a sprightly mystery, not a tragedy.

Emma, now promoted to editor-in-chief, has her hands full because, in spite of its pompadours and pearls, tennis and tea parties, this posh summer retreat turns out to be a very dangerous place. Two shocking murders occur at Kingscote, amid many plot twists, fascinating historical details (a parade of flower-decked horseless carriages, a sterling silver box of chocolates, a boxing match), and a plentiful supply of adjectives, making this latest mystery in the series—based on historical, peculiar, but non-homicidal, events—as lightly entertaining as its gilded predecessors.