Alyssa Maxwell’s first Gilded Newport Mystery, MURDER AT THE BREAKERS, will be premiering on the Hallmark Movies & Mystery Channel on Friday, February 2, 2024. We interviewed the author to give readers new to the series a flavor of what this series is like, as well as giving current fans some insight into what makes these mysteries so special.
FF: What appeals to you about the period you set your Gilded Newport series in?
Alyssa: There’s a lot of material in this period for a writer to work with! It was a time of great contrasts and hypocrisy. There were the unimaginably wealthy and the unimaginably poor, and greed, inequality, and unfairness were rampant. But it was also a time of great innovation, ingenuity, and craftsmanship. This is particularly evident in Newport’s Gilded Age mansions, where modern methods of building and technology are combined with meticulous artistry to create what are, essentially, lasting monuments to that time in our history. We see this in clothing, too, in particular with House of Worth gowns, each of which was a unique work of art created for the wearer. Technology was modernizing at lightning speed, and social roles were changing, including those of women. All in all, it’s been an exciting time to explore.
FF: Is there another period you haven’t already used in a story that you might want to use in the future?
Alyssa: My Lady & Lady’s Maid Mysteries are set in 1920s England, just post-WWI. This has been an interesting journey for me because the period was marked by vast changes in England’s social and economic structure brought on by the war. I’d also like to explore the later 20s and 1930s in this country, with Prohibition and the Depression bringing on changes in our society that were both challenging and galvanizing.
FF: Your female sleuth is a reporter at the end of the nineteenth century. How would you describe her for readers new to the series? Does she work alone, or are there friends, family, or other supporting characters who help in her investigations?
Alyssa: Although Emma Cross is descended from the first Cornelius Vanderbilt, her branch of the family isn’t wealthy. She was born and raised in Newport in a modest household and, as she says, gains her strength from the bedrock of Aquidneck Island. She’s independent-minded and works for a living as a reporter. Early on in the series, she’s a society reporter who longs to be taken seriously and report on hard news. The inspiration for her goals comes from real-life Gilded Age journalist, Nellie Bly. Emma isn’t so independent that she doesn’t rely on friends and family for help when she needs it. She lives with her former nanny, now her housekeeper, and a maid-of-all-work, whom she rescued after the girl was sacked from her previous position. Emma also relies on her half-brother Brady, and she’s friends with Newport Police Detective Jesse Whyte. With her two-fold background, she is able to move among wealthy and ordinary Newporters alike, putting her in the perfect position to be a sleuth.
FF: How much research goes into your books, and this series specifically? Is there anything you found that was especially surprising or interesting?
Alyssa: History provides the framework for the series, so a lot of research has gone into that. Books, archived newspapers, the internet—I use whatever I can find. It’s especially helpful that we take yearly trips up to Newport, so I can refresh my memory about where things are and how they’re situated, and I always take lots of pictures. Being there also reminds me of what I love so much about the city and writing the series. One thing I’ve learned through my research is that Newport was never considered a particularly safe place. It’s no sleepy New England town. The constant influx of people—sailors, fishermen, tradesmen, tourists, etc.— throughout its history has brought affluence, art, and excitement to Newport, but it’s also brought individuals who didn’t have the best interests of the city or its people in mind. As far back as colonial times, there have been countless incidents of theft, murder, drunkenness and disorderly conduct, i.e. what you might expect from a city with a population that burgeons at certain times of the year.
FF: If you could only pick one of your books, other than this one, to a mystery reader unfamiliar with your work, which one would you pick? And why?
Alyssa: I’ve thought about this and decided it’s a very hard question to answer. They might try MURDER MOST MALICIOUS, the first book in my Lady & Lady’s Maid series, but if they wanted to read the Gilded Newport Mysteries, the place to start is with the first book, MURDER AT THE BREAKERS. Each book in the series can be a standalone read in terms of the murder mystery, but as with any series, the characters evolve and their lives change, and I think it’s a better experience for the reader to begin at the beginning, if they can. If they do start with a later book, my hope is that they’ll be engaged enough to want to go back to book one.
FF: Other authors I’ve interviewed have told me that the kinds of books they enjoy reading are different from the kind of books they enjoy writing. What do you like to read? Favorite books? Favorite author?
Alyssa: For me, that’s absolutely not the case. I love mysteries, and especially historical mysteries. I also love historical fiction, and most of my reading is within these two genres. I don’t stick to one or two authors though. I read widely, more attracted by location and subject than anything else. This way, I’ve found authors I might not have discovered if I had only read what was considered popular in the genre. My favorite time periods in fiction are, no surprise, the Gilded Age, the early twentieth century, post-WWII, and, perhaps this is surprising, colonial America and the Middle Ages through Elizabeth times.
FF: What are you currently working on?
Alyssa: I’m currently writing the ninth Lady & Lady’s Maid Mystery, which should come out in early 2025. It’s tentatively titled TWO WEDDINGS AND A MURDER, and brings with it big changes for the Renshaw Family and Eva Huntford, as well as the fictional village of Little Barlow. In the meantime, both Murder at Vinland in hardcover and the trade paperback edition of Murder at the Elms will be released on August 20, 2024.
Gilded Newport Mystery #1
Newport, Rhode Island, August 1895: She may be a less well-heeled relation, but as second cousin to millionaire patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, twenty-one-year-old Emma Cross is on the guest list for a grand ball at the Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ summer home. She also has a job to do—report on the event for the society page of the Newport Observer. But Emma observes much more than glitz and gaiety when she witnesses a murder. The victim is Cornelius Vanderbilt’s financial secretary, who plunges off a balcony faster than falling stock prices. Emma’s black sheep brother Brady is found in Cornelius’s bedroom passed out next to a bottle of bourbon and stolen plans for a new railroad line. Brady has barely come to before the police have arrested him for the murder. But Emma is sure someone is trying to railroad her brother and resolves to find the real killer at any cost…
Mystery | Mystery Historical [Kensington, On Sale: March 25, 2014, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780758290823 / eISBN: 9780758290830]
Alyssa Maxwell knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles of all kinds drew her to the mystery genre. She and her husband live in Florida, where they love to swim, ride their bikes, and shop at farmer’s markets and consignment stores. Alyssa also loves to watch BBC productions, sip tea in the afternoons, and delve into the past. She is the author of The Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries, and is a member of The South Florida Fiction Writers and the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.
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