Penny Richards is a historical fiction writer with a strong interest in history. To contextualize her work, it can be fascinating to learn more about the time and place in which her novel is set. Her protagonist, Emma Cross, is a distant cousin of the Vanderbilt family. The Vanderbilt clan has long been synonymous with opulence, philanthropy, and glamour. The family’s story is a compelling one—one of making a fortune and rising to the social elite.
The family’s tale begins with Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of nine children from a Dutch-American family of modest means, living on Staten Island. After dropping out of school at age 11, Cornelius succeeded in founding a shipping and railroad empire and brought his family to celebrity status, remembered as historical legends.
He brought his company up from one single boat, to a trading monopoly, making him the second richest man in American history after John D. Rockefeller.
The family’s enormous Fifth Avenue mansions in New York were the largest of their kind, in good company with their other sprawling mansions, like The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island and the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. They were known for financing architectural feats, even taking a great part in the building of the modern Grand Central Station. Before his death, Cornelius Vanderbilt allotted 1 million U.S. dollars to found the prestigious Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. With inflation, this original 1 million would today be equal to 20 million dollars.
Such grandeur and status allows for a look into a glittering, elusive past of the Gilded Age. Our protagonist Emma Cross, however, hopes to transcend the chains of status that rule Newport, Rhode Island, by proving herself as a successful sleuth.
In glittering Newport, Rhode Island, at the close of the nineteenth century, status is everything. But despite being a poorer relation to the venerable Vanderbilts, Emma Cross has shaped her own identity—as a reporter and a sleuth.
Fancies and Fashion reporter Emma Cross is sent by the Newport Observer to cover an elite house party at Rough Point, the “cottage” owned by her distant cousin Frederick Vanderbilt, which has been rented as a retreat for artists. To her surprise, the illustrious guests include her estranged Bohemian parents—recently returned from Europe—as well as a variety of notable artists, including author Edith Wharton.
But when one of the artists—an English baronet—is discovered dead at the bottom of a cliff, Rough Point becomes anything but a house of mirth. After a second guest is found murdered, no one is above suspicion.
About the author:
Alyssa Maxwell has worked in publishing as an assistant editor and a ghost writer, but knew from an early age that being a novelist was what she wanted most. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles of all kinds drew her to the mystery genre. She lives in South Florida in the current year, but confesses to spending most of her time in the Victorian, Edwardian, and post WWI eras. In addition to fantasizing about wearing Worth gowns while strolling manor house gardens, she loves to watch BBC and other period productions and sip tea in the afternoons. You can learn more about Alyssa and her books at www.alyssamaxwell.com, and friend her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/gildednewport and facebook.com/AlyssaMaxwellauthor.