This mystery reminded me a little of another Netgalley book I read not too long ago: at a large (i.e. rich person’s) house, a contained group of people gathered for a specific purpose find themselves being picked off one by one by an unknown subject. However, while I hated that one, this, by an author I’ve read before and enjoyed, was more to my taste. I like the heroine, journalist Emmaline Cross, trying to make her way in the male-more-than-dominated world of the late 1890’s.
It’s interesting for Mrs. Edward Wharton – Edith Wharton – to be an active character in this story. I knew nothing about her, and have read only Age of Innocence, so I had no idea where the author would take it. It’s somewhere between fun and annoying that Emmie turns to Mrs. Wharton as a confidant – she is obviously the one certainly safe character in the cast, given her historical reality.
Joining Mrs. Wharton for an get-together at the mansion at Rough Point are a collection of artists of all flavors, including, to Emmaline’s great surprise, her parents. I like the rocky relationship there … although I have to say it’s not an original thing, this carelessness of the artsy parents leading to both resentment and love in the daughter.
There is also a creature called Josephine Marcus, who is well built as a hideous creature I hoped would die. She uses a Capodimente vase as an ashtray. I would have bashed her one myself for that – and it was nice that first-person narrator Emmie feels the same way. And if I didn’t already hate her guts for carelessly defacing artwork, there was her attitude toward animals in general, pets in particular, and Emmie’s dog in specificity. “Barns and the wilderness are for animals. That and coat collars.” Die. In a fire.
I enjoyed the writing, and Emmie’s voice. “Something happened then. I couldn’t quite identify it, but a look slithered its way around the table: the flicker of an eye, a twitch of the mouth, the compression of Mother’s lips. The emotion, whatever it was, touched all but the Whartons, who continued their meal without the slightest pause. Then, with a collective clattering of flatware, the others resumed eating.” – That’s nice, isn’t it? Well done.
The artistic personalities of all of the guests, with all of the baggage brought with them, make it interesting when one of these guests dies. It’s odd – despite evidence, the narrator talks about the man having taken his own life; she never seems to question suicide. It’s funny that the servants are sort of brushed aside – they’re neither possible victims (who would bother?) nor possible suspects.
I do wish the author would use “literally” correctly, however (“my heart had literally thrust up into my throat”). I will hope that the difference between “lay” and “lie” was ironed out before publication.
And, sadly, there is this: “There is little kindness or gallantry in the art world, Miss Cross, as I am certain you are aware.” The more I read about it, the more true that seems to be.
Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most was a note in the author’s afterword, admitting to adding “a couple more bedrooms” to Rough Point than existed in the period. That seemed bizarre for a mansion; I tend to picture spare bedrooms galore, yet there was not enough proper room for all of the guests as it was, even with fictionally added bedrooms. Odd.
It wasn’t the best book ever – but it was very enjoyable. I look forward to the rest of the series.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.