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Emma Cross, a minor relative of the Vanderbilt family in 1894, wakes up one morning at her home in Newport, Rhode Island where she takes in all women in need, in Murder at Beechwood by Alyssa Maxwell, but this time Emma finds a baby abandoned in front of her door. A fancy lace handkerchief suggests to them that this baby may be the child of someone from high society. This leads her police friend, Jesse, to tell her about the murder of an obviously working class man, wondering if there could be a connection between the cases. Knowing that as the reporter of the society news column of the newspaper, she will be attending the Astor ball for all of high society the next night, Jesse asks Emma to keep her eyes and ears open. She is to see if she can get an idea if a woman there might have given birth to an illegitimate child recently but stay clear of the question of murder. At the ball, Emma notices particular discord among the Monroe family, along with Daphne Gordon, the ward of Virgil Monroe, the family patriarch who tends to rule harshly. And then Emma hears a voice she recognizes. It is Derrick Andrews, the man whose proposal Emma turned down many months earlier but for whom she has discovered a growing love amid confusion over his disappearance from the island for a long time. But when Emma goes to greet Derrick, he gives her a cold shoulder, and his mother positively glares at Emma, creating all sorts of confusion for Emma.
The day after the ball, the Astors host a yacht race, and Emma finds herself invested in two of the 5-man yachts. One is sailed by five of Emma's Vanderbilt relatives, while the other contains the four Monroe men and Derrick. During the race, a storm arises, and the Monroe yacht finds itself losing control, almost running into the Vanderbilt yacht before turning on its side. The rescue boats manage to save four of the men, but no one can locate Virgil Monroe. With the yacht's passing a safety inspection before the race, could someone have sabotaged the yacht? Has another murder taken place?
This book begins with a powerful start and continues with gripping details until the end. The mystery takes many twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat. It takes several threads of plot and only shows how they fit together until the very end.
The characters in this book either make you love them or love to hate them! Emma comes across as a strong woman with a big heart, who performs her actions, often with disregard to her own safety, out of compassion for others. I appreciated the way this book shows a new side of Emma in the maternal feelings she demonstrates when she meets the baby and falls in love in a brand new way. Other characters illustrate the limitations of women in society in 1894.
Another key theme of this book is the way high society tried to arrange the marriages of their children for the families' financial and social benefit. We witness three couples who face opposition from their families against their marriages. They all belong to high society, but one woman comes from a nouvea riche family, to the consternation of the slightly less nouvea riche Vanderbilt family. Another woman faces criticism because her wealth is not in investments, thus creating interest, but rather is a set sum.
I was highly impressed by all the research that went into Murder at Beechwood. It is clear that Maxwell has studied this era and place in society to a great extent. I felt that I truly was coming to know so much about high society in 1894 Newport, a topic to which I had given little thought in the past.
I enjoyed the narrative performance of Eva Kaminsky in bringing this book to life. She does a great job of conveying the haughty attitudes of the society women who see themselves as better than everyone else. I loved the audiobook and definitely recommend this medium for reading the book.
I truly loved Murder at Beechwood, which combines a powerful mystery plot with great characters that complement the mystery. In addition, the setting of high society in Newport adds to the pleasure of the book. I highly recommend it and give the book five stars!
I recently discovered this series and fell in love with it and the characters. Ms. Maxwell does a splendid job of developing her characters, exposing their depths and complexities. Even so, the books remain cozy and enjoyable. I knew who did it early on in some and was surprised in others, but all have been enjoyable. I am about to start her most recent in the series and hope there will be many more to come.