This kick ass book features ladies’ maid Jane Prescott, who happens to be working for the newly wealthy and somewhat clueless Benchley family when a murder explodes the family’s world. Jane has more or less taken the Benchley girls under her wing. Their mother is a feckless household manager and the girls, Charlotte, beautiful and headstrong, and Louisa, plain and shy, welcome the kind of insider society knowledge Jane possesses after working for various wealthy families. It’s 1910 and a good marriage for each girl is uppermost in their minds – and in the mind of their mother.
Jane is telling the story, and it’s clear she’s looking back in time as she remembers the incidents that so shaped the lives of the Benchley family. While Jane works for one of the wealthiest families in 1910 New York, she’s also friends with an anarchist named Anna who brings her a different view of the world and when the murder occurs, a different view of the importance of the dead person. Jane balances her loyalty and affection for the family she’s serving while hearing Anna’s voice in her head.
The other family affected owned a mine in Pennsylvania where eight children were left for dead after a collapse. This family has been receiving threatening notes from the anarchists referring to the mine tragedy. In this way, Fredericks almost gently points out the vast divide between the upper classes and everyone else, though her main character is ruled more by her heart than by principles.
Jane, at the request of Mr. Benchley, helps to investigate the murder with the help of a tenacious and bold reporter. They ably follow the threads of the mystery back to the source. Jane and her reporter buddy are tormented by the classic dilemma posed in almost every mystery novel: does a killing come down to the killer’s character or the situation? Or both?
Fredericks, a brisk and lively storyteller, takes the reader on a careening ride through the various echelons of 1910 New York society, helping the reader to be invested in Jane from page one. I found this novel extremely difficult to put down and satisfying after I’d finished reading it. This is a wonderful first foray into historical mystery fiction for Ms. Fredericks. I can’t wait to read more.