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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Book Review: A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks

In full disclosure, I should mention I'm friends with the author. Some people are excited to read a book by a friend. But I'm nervous. I'm pretty critical (a recovering editor) and have high standards. And I'm not a very good liar. So I was hugely relieved when I read this book! I liked it! I really liked it!

Jane is a ladies maid in New York City in the 1910s, but the family is new money, so they need more help from their staff, and they are understaffed. Jane is supposed to be the personal maid to the younger of the two daughters but ends up doing both of them much of the time, and even occasionally acting as housekeeper on top of it, but she's very capable and can handle it. Charlotte, the older, impulsive, willful daughter suddenly gets engaged to a scion of Manhattan society, and yet it is initially kept secret (despite her wealth, her family would be seen as a step down for him. Plus, his ex isn't fully out of the picture.) Finally it's due to be publicly announced and there's a great party held for the occasion. And then, the fiance is found dead in the library.

Charlotte is suspected, and a reporter is snooping around. Plus, Jane worries about her old friend who has gotten involved in worker's rights and maybe even with anarchists—and they don't like these families, especially the dead man's father who owns a mine where a terrible explosion killed scores of poor workers. Surely she couldn't have anything to do with it, right? Jane reluctantly teams up with the reporter in hopes of clearing her employer, her friend, and her own conscious. But someone did murder him... if not one of them, then who?

It was a fun murder mystery with a delightful Upstairs Downstairs feel to it, where you both get a taste for what it was like to be wealthy in Manhattan at the end of the Gilded Age, and also what it was like to be a maid for one of these families, at a time when the politics of working the poor nearly to death was no longer as acceptable, and what that meant to the working classes. You can tell Ms. Fredericks did her research, and the book brims with tantalizing details of the upper class at a time when their influence was just about to come crashing down.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

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