The magnificent mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, provide the setting for high-society murder in the Gilded Age.
Emma Cross, a society columnist for a New York newspaper, yearns to be an investigative reporter like the famous Nellie Bly. She gets a chance when she’s sent to her hometown of Newport to report on a coming-out ball which will be attended by Silas Griggson, a self-made real estate developer; Silas is of interest because one of his tenements recently collapsed with fatal consequences, a calamity he blamed on a foreman who soon turned up dead. Emma, who counts the Vanderbilts among her relatives but struggles to keep up Gull Manor, the seaside home she inherited from an aunt, has two suitors: Derrick Andrews, wealthy, handsome, and willing to help her solve mysteries (Murder at Chateau su Mer, 2017, etc.), and Jesse Whyte, a Newport detective whose lifestyle is more like her own. At the ball, Emma picks up on uncomfortable undercurrents among the guests. When Cleo Cooper-Smith takes her place on a throne illuminated by electricity, the crowd is wowed until the lights go out. Hastily arranged candlelight reveals that Cleo’s been electrocuted. Although Cleo is not universally loved and has been cruel to her handicapped older sister, her father wants the electrician arrested. Emma, who’s known Dale Hanson for years, is convinced he had nothing to do with the death, which she soon discovers was murder. With friends among the idle rich and ordinary townsfolk alike, Emma is well-placed to dig up clues, and her search takes her from sumptuous mansions to the local Army post, her stubborn, unladylike behavior putting her in danger while she ponders her options.
Plenty of red herrings and an intimate look at the world of the wealthy and famous make for a rich broth of a mystery.