Murder Wears a Hidden Face (A Gilded Age Mystery)

Written by Rosemary Simpson
Review by Joanne Vickers

Simpson asserts in her author’s note that in each book she writes “the setting…[is] another character.” Certainly, the setting in this mystery makes New York City’s Gilded Age come alive. Whether it is delicious Delmonico’s Restaurant or tumultuous Chinatown, the reader is caught up in vivid sensory detail.

Plot is another of Simpson’s strong points. The novel opens with the surprising stabbing death of Lord Peng, a Chinese cultural attaché, by an unknown assailant as the diplomat and his family are about to open a lavish installation of Ming Dynasty art at the Metropolitan Museum. Finding the villain becomes quite complicated.

The detecting pair, originally hired as family bodyguards, Prudence MacKenzie and Geoffrey Hunter, and their associates—as well as the New York police and various recruits—must pursue leads that point to both political and personal complications. While developing the various leads, the novel incorporates a wealth of detail about Chinese and Chinese American culture. It also reveals the lamentable prejudicial history of United States policies regarding Chinese immigration during the late 19th century.

The characters in this novel move the plot along at a quick pace; however, they are not developed with much depth. Prudence, Geoffrey, and the Peng family do not have much of an interior life that would make the reader more sympathetic with their dilemmas. But go along for the ride!