Mariah Fredericks’s second Jane Prescott mystery, Death Of A New American, has a rich, layered, vivid backdrop: 1912 New York. Indeed, Fredericks’s vibrantly-rendered historical detail may be as immersive and compelling as her mystery and characters. Of the latter, her amateur sleuth, lady’s maid Jane Prescott, is eminently sympathetic: intelligent, observant, and compassionate. Jane’s lowly social status allows her the freedom to fade into the background and take in the details of the wealthy, privileged, and as aristocratic as Americans can be, families she serves. Fredericks may write about the rich and powerful, but the moral core of her mystery lies with the people of the “downstairs”. Their lives, thanks to the historical context in which Fredericks situates them, will change as social, economic, and political tides sweep over early twentieth century New York.
Fredericks has penned a novel as richly conceived historically as it is domestically. When it opens, the papers are crying the news of the Titanic‘s sinking. On the domestic front, Jane is preparing a trip to the Long Island home of the Tylers, as her mistress, Louise Benchley, prepares to marry their nephew, William. Charles, William’s uncle, is the powerful, influential, and famous-for-fighting-the-emerging-Italian-NY mafia, police commissioner. But, who is the “new American” and how and why does she die?
Much as Miss Bates loves the HP line, she’s never been much for the connected HP-series. A few years ago, the line went with a crud-awful interconnected hotel-setting series and it was ugh. So MissB. was leery of trying another one in this “Di Sione” series, but, hey, Jennifer Hayward! woot!, one of the more original, more interesting HP writers (her The Italian’s Deal For I Do one of MissB’s favourite HPs EVAH). The past few books have never reached The Italian’s Deal‘s heights, but they’ve consistently been well-written and absent of the insane WTF-ery that distinguishes the line. Hayward seems to like the idea of the “deal” as a romantic premise, essentially the opening to a good ole marriage-of-convenience romance narrative, in this case, a marriage-deal for Nate Brunswick and Mina Mastrantino. The product of Benito Di Sione’s affair with his secretary, Nate has a huge-o-rama shoulder chip about his illegitimacy, place in the Di Sione family, except in his relationship with his paternal grand-father, Giovanni, his eschewing of marriage and anything that says “feels”. When Nate was a teen, Giovanni gave him a place at the family-company-table, thus saving him from a life on the streets. Now that Nate’s created and expanded his personal fortune as well as the family one, he wants to give dying, fragile Giovanni the gift of the “Di Sione ring,” which seems to have a mysterious special significance for Giovanni. In one of Nate’s Palermo hotels, he meets an adorably curvy, tiny chambermaid who, it turns out, is none other than the possessor of the precious ring.