STARRED REVIEW
April 10, 2018

Ladies’ maid on the case

By Mariah Fredericks
Review by

The prewar world of New York City in 1910 comes to life through the colorful social settings and real historical events that abound in Mariah Fredericks’ mystery, A Death of No Importance. The Edgar Award-nominated YA novelist has lavished her debut adult novel with period details and strong characterizations.

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The prewar world of New York City in 1910 comes to life through the colorful social settings and real historical events that abound in Mariah Fredericks’ mystery, A Death of No Importance. The Edgar Award-nominated YA novelist has lavished her debut adult novel with period details and strong characterizations.

Family rivalries, often tainted by the dark legacies of wealth and power, have made their mark in America in the early 20th century. The Industrial Revolution has heightened class differences and fueled the rise of anarchist politics, inciting a sense of unease in the upper classes. Who among them really has money—and who is willing to share that upper echelon at the risk of having to cling to a more precarious perch?

Handsome Norrie Newsome is the scion in a family where the wealth may not be quite as secure as it used to be, and where a wise choice of wife could ensure his continued presence among the well-heeled. He finds a candidate in Charlotte Benchley, whose family belongs to New York’s “new wealthy.”

Enter Charlotte’s astute ladies’ maid, Jane Prescott, who turns sleuth when Norrie is found brutally murdered during a glittering Christmas Eve party given to announce the couple’s engagement. Jane’s gift for listening, as well as her natural curiosity, places her near the scene when the murder is committed. Could the murderer be the would-be fiancée, who discovers that Norrie is quite the ladies’ man? A spurned lover? Or is it the family’s pick: an anarchist taking revenge for a past crime committed by Norrie’s family? They owned a coal mine that collapsed, killing miners and children. When Jane meets a young newspaperman with an equal interest in the crime, they team up to discover the roots of a past tragedy that still haunts families across the social spectrum.

Occasionally, Jane seems a little too ahead of her time; she is a cool, modern presence in an era of Gibson Girl waistlines and strict codes of social and sexual behavior. She appears to see through the established pecking order and invites confidences despite the barriers of a stringent, limiting class hierarchy. But no matter. The author leads readers on a merry chase from the glittering ballrooms and cozy boudoirs of the privileged to the tawdry streets of the Lower East Side, and to a shabby mining town that bears the scars of terrible tragedy.

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A Death of No Importance

A Death of No Importance

By Mariah Fredericks
Minotaur
ISBN 9781250152978

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