DEATH OF A NEW AMERICAN is
Mariah Fredericks' second novel featuring my favorite kind of
character: the plain lady's maid, daughter of the Gilded Age, whose
unobtrusive appearance belies a bright wit.
If this were a Romance novel, Jane Prescott would charm her way to an
heir's heart with her level-headed kindness. As this is a mystery, Jane's
prize is not a husband but a murderer.
In Fredericks' first novel, A DEATH OF
NO IMPORTANCE, Jane's charge, Charlotte Benchley, comes under
strong suspicion when her fiancé turns up dead. Jane, with her drab
dress and low social position, can move freely through the world of the
American nouveau riche. Helped in her investigation by smart, cute and
married journalist Michael Behan, Jane finds the crime's true culprit
and revives Charlotte's reputation.
In DEATH OF A NEW AMERICAN,
the story picks up in 1912 after the Benchley family has enjoyed two
years out of the spotlight. In the interim, their older daughter, Louise,
has gotten engaged to the relatively eligible William Tyler. Their
wedding, at the Tylers' family mansion on Long Island, is going to be
the event of the year and include, rumor has it, a Duchess -- from
England. (Frederick' historical research is obvious in her charming
comparison of the wedding to 1911's union between Teddy and Eleanor
Roosevelt, at which the food was "supplied by an Italian caterer, not of
the first class").
The Benchley-Tyler wedding has some competition in the publicity
department, happening the same summer as the Titanic disaster. Is this
an ill omen? Of course, it is. For the second time in two years, the
Benchleys' matrimonial plans are thrown into scandal by death -- Sofia,
the Tyler children's nanny.
Who could have slit the throat of the beautiful young Italian, mere feet
from the infant Freddy Tyler? Could it have something to do with
Charles Tyler's role as deputy police commissioner of New York City,
where he is famous for taking on the Italian gangs? Or is it something
more personal -- a romantic rebuff, for example?
Though the novel takes some time winding up to the crime, once we're
there the plot is juicy. Fredericks' knack for pithy characterization
propels the narrative along, while the plethora of historical detail means
the world of 1914 New York is richly drawn if sometimes belabored.
Discussions between the downstairs staff of the suffragette marches
felt a bit on-the-nose. That said, I loved the color added by mentions of
dirigibles and charabancs.
If not for the bloody death, I would have thoroughly enjoyed living in
this world -- old money and new, carriages and lady's maids. Though I
wanted to see the crime solved, I didn't want the story to end.
Death of a New American by Mariah Fredericks is
the atmospheric, compelling follow-up to the stunning debut
A Death of No Importance, featuring series character,
In 1912, as New York reels from the news of the Titanic
disaster, ladies’ maid Jane Prescott travels to Long
Island with the Benchley family. Their daughter Louise is to
marry William Tyler, at their uncle and aunt’s mansion; the
Tylers are a glamorous, storied couple, their past filled
with travel and adventure. Now, Charles Tyler is known for
putting down New York’s notorious Italian mafia, the Black
Hand, and his wife Alva has settled into domestic life.
As the city visitors adjust to the rhythms of the household,
and plan Louise’s upcoming wedding, Jane quickly befriends
the Tyler children’s nanny, Sofia—a young Italian-American
woman. However, one unusually sultry spring night, Jane is
woken by a scream from the nursery—and rushes in to find
Sofia murdered, and the carefully locked window flung open.
The Tylers believe that this is an attempted kidnapping of
their baby gone wrong; a warning from the criminal
underworld to Charles Tyler. But Jane is asked to help with
the investigation by her friend, journalist Michael Behan,
who knows that she is uniquely placed to see what other
tensions may simmer just below the surface in this wealthy,
secretive household. Was Sofia’s murder fall-out from the
social tensions rife in New York, or could it be a much more