Friday, August 8, 2014

MURDER AT THE BREAKERS (Gilded Newport Mysteries #1) by Alyssa Maxwell: A Review

(Gilded Newport Mysteries #1)
Alyssa Maxwell
Kensington Books; March 25, 2014
Paperback, 304 pages
Cozy, Mystery, Suspense, Historical Fiction
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
My review
"I care not for riches, and do not miss them since only cleverness prevails in the end."
A delightful and harmonious concoction of vividly portrayed Gilded Age milieu and well thought-out murder mystery plot. Theme, voice, and pace flow  on a trail of red herrings with a balance that was as graceful as unexpectedly transfixing for a debut novel. Based on real historical figures and narrated through the outsider's perspective of Emma Cross, an acute observer treading the fine line that separates the upper crust of society from its barely tolerated bourgeois relatives, Murder At The Breakers evokes the sumptuous charm of that by-gone era with its wealth, its splendid mansions, and high society scandals hidden behind a veil of primness and apparent respectability.
Newport, Rhode Island, 1895
Vanderbilt blood runs through Emmaline Cross' veins, but she belongs to the less illustrious side of the family: the twenty-five year old spinster was born and raised a Newporter -- a salty and sturdy 'bluestocking'. Definitely not on the market for a tycoon husband. Emma won't compromise her independence to be the wife of a wealthy man and have her life mapped out in an endless series of balls and regattas. More similar to her bold and eccentric Aunt Sadie, she refuses to be part of the gilded prison that traps Aunt Alice, wife of business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. A reporter for the society column of the Newport Observer, and with her artistic parents expatriated on the other side of the Atlantic, Emma writes for a living and resides with a nanny and a maid at Gull Manor, a quaint house boldly perched on the ocean. On the night of her cousin Gertrude's coming-out ball at The Breakers, Uncle Cornelius' financial secretary is found dead in one of the rooms of the Vanderbilt summer mansion. All the evidence collected by the police on the murder scene points to Emma's half-brother Brady Gale, a good-natured young man who can hardly keep himself out of troubles. Although hailing from two of the most respectable families of the Island, Stuart Braden Gale IV has seen the inside of the Newport jail nearly as often as the worst scoundrel in town -- just the perfect scapegoat for a crime that may have been committed by some unsuspected and more titled members of the good society. With the help of the enigmatic fellow reporter Derrick Andrews, Emma will discover the true culprit, unveiling, at the same time, the shocking extravagancies and the surprising frailties of one of the most iconic and powerful American dynasties.
In the usual fashion of most cozy mystery novels, romance plays a part in the narrative -- a marginal one, actually. It's an intriguing plus that entices without crossing over into romantic suspense. Nonetheless, the chemistry between Emma and the mysterious Derrick adds  zest to the storyline and helps reveal the protagonist's inner world and motivations.  Alyssa Maxwell deftly strikes the romantic chord, creating, with its open-ended tone, a narrative bridge between this first episode and its sequel, due in October. Emma and Derrick have been thrust into a maelstrom of events too fierce not to spark a flame worthy of being reignited in future installments: I'll be looking forward to Murder At Marble House with great anticipation.

***Review copy graciously offered by the publisher in return for an unbiased and honest opinion



  1. Murder at the Breakers was the best historical cozy mystery that I have ever read. I love the time period in which this occurs and the memories of Newport that the book reminds me of after living in New England all my life and having visited Newport, RI all of that time as well. This book is so well written that you can picture everything that is happening in your mind's eye. Solving crimes in 1895 had to be almost impossible with none of today's advanced technology but thank goodness dear Emmaline is the bright and talented sleuth that she is, and this obviously shows what a great writer and researcher that Alyssa Maxwell is with the way each character and each incident comes to life in this book. We readers are so fortunate to have such bright authors to write such wonderful books for us. Book 2 is going to be another fabulous gilded mansion mystery too, and I for one cannot wait to read the entire series and "revisiting" all of the Newport mansions in the process. Great writing talent in this series!!!!!

    Cynthia Blain

  2. For anyone who loves historical novels and would like a great mystery element to go along with that, you really must do yourself a favor and read Alyssa Maxwell's new series, The Gilded Newport Mansion series, with Murder at the Breakers being the first and fabulous. I was looking for this type of book as I love to read about the turn of the century and I LOVE mysteries. When I heard about Murder at the breakers, I just had to get it and I am so happy that I did. You will find Emmaline a truly unique individual who ends up solving a crime in 1895 with none of today's modern technology just using her eyes and ears and her wit and talent for remembering and listening to others. It is a remarkable book and I also loved it due to the fact that I grew up in CT. and have also lived in MA all my life, so Newport, RI was one of the places that we went to multiple times each year. Having done the mansion tour of the Breakers made this book come to life for me, and with the in depth research that was done by Ms. Maxwell transferred to the books pages, you get to experience the time period so clearly in your mind's eye. I am truly looking forward to Murder at Marble House which will be out this October.

    1. This is wonderful, Cynthia! I love and share your enthusiasm toward this book :)

  3. Though not a fan of the "Cozies", your review struck a chord with me Mina. I spied this book on Goodreads but passed it by~~I'll give it another look thanks to this review!

    1. For those bookworms who have devoured Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew mysteryes all their life, reading MURDER AT THE BREAKERS is like coming home. You may want to give it a try and, maybe, you'll become a fan of the genre, Maryellen :)

    2. Thank you, Mina and Cyntha! It's thrilling to see comments and reviews like this. And Maryellen, should you pick up my book, I do hope you enjoy it. Hugs to all of you!