Murder at Ochre Court

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

I received a free copy of this book from Kensington Books in exchange for my honest review.
To begin, the cover of this novel is stunning. A French-chateau style home (likely Ochre Court itself) graces the cover with a romantic gated entryway and beautiful, dark romantic colours. I admit, the cover attracted me to the story at least as much as the book description itself.
The novel begins with a conversation about marriage and money with none other than Nellie Bly. This beginning is an ambitious one, considering her historical importance. The interaction is done well, but we are left wondering why this conversation really matters. At the end of the 19th century, many if not most women were openly encouraged to try to marry at least slightly above their own circumstances in order to improve their own and their family’s social standing. But we never encounter Bly again. This ends up coming across as lazy writing… Why I is our protagonist doing/saying/thinking this? Because Nellie Bly said so. So? Because she’s Nellie Bly! Instead of creating and developing a trustworthy and capable character whose word we can take because of trouble the author took to establish her as credible, the author fictitiously uses a fairly well-known historical person, leaving the reader to rely on biographical knowledge acquired prior to reading this book (or, for those who would be unfamiliar with Bly, Wikipedia). Bly doesn’t come back into the picture at all during this story except in a sort of “What Would Nellie Do?” manner, making their first and only meeting appear somewhat contrived and gratuitous. What we are left with at the beginning of the story is a woman sitting in a train car with a complete stranger, who offers advice that we must then subsequently read about for the rest of the novel.
I was rather annoyed by the awkward juxtaposition of phrasing. Maxwell seems unable to decide whether she wishes for her writing to mimic the English of the period or whether she wishes to use a contemporary style. Her occasional incorrect usage of vocabulary is frustrating. Unless done very deliberately for effect (which is obviously not the case here), consistency is key. I would highly recommend some editing simply to establish that consistency.
Our protagonist, Emmaline “Emma” Cross, is a distant relation of the Vanderbilt family, which, to be frank, it also rather lazy writing. By making Emma a relation, the reader is expected to infer a certain degree of wealth (even if it is minor, dwindling, or relatively newly squandered), social capital and connections, and status that one would expect of anyone connected to the Vanderbilt dynasty. Yet by making her such a distant relation (“[t]he Vanderbilts were my third cousins – or was it fourth- on my father’s side”), the author can capitalize on the Vanderbilt splendour without having to do more than cursory research on the family. The Vanderbilt family is so iconic that much of Emma’s family history requires no explanation or description – so, very little work from the writer. Emma Cross is important enough to be granted access to society, but not so important that real-life contradicts the author’s story. I would expect for an author who can concoct a murder-mystery to be capable of providing a superior backstory than what was provided for Emma Cross.
Our players are rather one-dimensional. They do not exhibit humour (we hear how Robbie can make Emma laugh all the time, but we never actually see this happen), they do not playfully engage with each other. I understand that this story is a classic murder-mystery, but the only way to give it depth is to provide extraneous detail and interaction. The murder-mystery formula is adhered to far too rigidly. People are either nice or not nice, helpful or withholding, everyone who appeared to be straightforward remained straightforward. I would have loved to have seen more depth from Emma and the supporting characters.
For a woman who is upset about the abhorrent possibility of being defined by a future spouse, Emma is very pre-occupied with her feelings toward Jesse the policeman and Derrick the newspaper man. Following the first scene in which she has her brief interaction with Bly, Emma reminds us at every turn that she doesn’t want to marry and has no intention to marry and that marriage is such a burden to an independent woman and so forth. It dominates the pages until right around the end when we’re sure of the choice she will soon be making. The lady doth protest too much? Between her frequent holier-than-thou attitude, her oscillation between two men and remaining single, her rich relative name dropping (while seemingly martyring herself by not wanting to accept help from them and worrying about how she would fit in with their set if she did marry up), and her complete inability to read people, I found myself wishing that I could root for anyone else.
That being said, the author did obviously conduct a thorough investigation of late 19th century Newport geography, and learned a great deal about the houses of the Gilded Age, which comes through in the detail with which she describes our surroundings. Having never entered one these great houses, I feel as though as I have in mind’s eye. 
I do wonder if this book could have been improved had it not felt so rushed.
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In 1898, Emma Cross is a journalist relegated to reporting on members of Mary Astor’s infamous list of the 400 most influential people in New York society and their goings on. Emma longs to be a “real” investigative reporter and follow in the footsteps of Nelly Bly, but publishers hire her because she’s a distant cousin in the Vanderbilt family. She returns home to Newport on assignment to attend and report on the coming-out ball of Cleo Cooper-Smith. As the belle of the ball, Cleo creates a tableau vivant with herself as Cleopatra. As she ascends the steps to sit in her throne. The electric lights plunges the ballroom into darkness. When the lights come back on, the guest of honor is dead.

Emma, working with the local policeman, knows Cleo has been murdered, but by whom? Who would want to murder a debutante from a once-wealthy family?

Maxwell has written a well-crafted cozy mystery with a complex plot, many suspects, an arsonist, a jewel thief, and of course a murderer. Maxwell moves the story along at a leisurely pace much like the pace of life at the turn-of-the-century. The ending may surprise you, but when  you think about it, you will know that she gave hints along the way about who the murderer is.

While this is the sixth book in the Gilded Newport series, it is a stand-alone as well. The author does a very good job of giving enough information about the characters who appear in the previous books so she doesn’t lose readers, like myself, who are just now finding this series.
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This is another delightful entry into the Newport series by Alyssa Maxwell.  Touching on the tension between the "old" and "new" schools of Newport, this entry into the series follows the intrepid "trying to be a serious reporter" Emma returning home to Newport.  Still not taken seriously, she decides to return home to stay and continue investigating shady developer Silas Griggson.  Who, not for nothing, gave me the heebie-jeebies like no ones business.  The perfect foil for Emma, and she really holds her own against him.  A young debutante is murdered at her coming out ball, and Emma wants to keep her finger on the pulse of the investigation (no pun intended when you read how the young woman died.)  Torn between two potential love interests, Emma tries to navigate the thorny waters of high society Newport and the working class people who also live there.  While there was a bit too much dithering between the two love interests, the mystery itself was fascinating and I was eager to find out the murderer!
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Murder At Ochre Court is the sixth book in the Gilded Newport Mysteries series.

I love historical cozy mysteries and this series is definitely one of my favorites.
 
After spending an unsatisfying year writing society columns for the Herald in New York City, Emma’s editor sends her home to cover the society debut of Cleo Cooper-Smith.  Mrs. Goelet is handling the gala affair, having promised Cleo’s mother before she died.  Mrs. Goelet has planned an elaborate throne, much like Cleopatra would have had, for Cleo to reside on.  She had local electrician, Dale Hanson, string so Edison lights near where Cleo would be sitting.  After the decoration have been hung and Hanson has completed the wiring, Mrs. Goelet has ordered that the ballroom is locked and that no one is allowed in the ballroom until the gala that evening.  That evening when Cleo assumes her seat and the Edison lights are turned on some of the guests sense something is wrong and when the ballroom lights are turned back on Cleo’s lifeless body is seen having apparently having been electrocuted.  Then when Jessie Whyte, police detective and friend of Emma, and Hanson arrive, Hanson unwittingly touches the chair and Whyte grabs him and attempts to dislodge Hanson.  They both require hospitalization and Whyte asks Emma to investigate what might have gone wrong.

When Emma returns to the Goelet’s home to begin her investigation she notices wiring around the feet of the chair that Cleo had been sitting on and was able to get confirmation that this was definitely a case of murder.  She has many suspects to sort through.  The owner of the local gas company, Max Brentworth, who might feel his business is being threatened by all the homes that are  converting to electricity, Silas Griggson, a real estate developer, who was hoping to get engaged to Cleo but had been spurned by her, and her maid who had had an argument on the day of Cleo’s death and who had valuables of Cleo in her possession, and others.

This is another well-plotted and told story from Ms. Maxwell.  Maxwell does a wonderful job of portraying what life might have been like in the late 1800’s in Newport and providing the reader with an interesting and believable cast of characters.

I will definitely be watching for the next book in this exciting series.
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Thanks Kensington Books and netgalley for this ARC.

Alyssa Maxwell has mastered the art of keeping the reader coming back to her series. Love the way new mysteries are built around the history of a new place in Newport. I'll be a fan of her and this series til the end of time.
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Alyssa Maxwell has picked Newport as her location and the time is just prior to the start of the twentieth century. Her heroine Emmaline Cross is returning from a disappointing foray in New York journalism. Hoping to become more than a gossip columnist reporting on the 400 who fit into Mrs. Astor’s ballroom she is once again made aware of the discrimination against women. On the train from New York to Rhode Island she meets Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman a/k/a Nellie Bly who she admires for achieving everything denied to Emmaline.  Bly advises Emmaline that “the only sure path to personal freedom” is Money and admits that the only way to obtain it if you are a woman without any is Marriage. This section of the book seems to be a brief aside, but in hindsight it colors much of the narrative. 

If you enjoy murder mysteries, and know anything about Newport, RI or care to know about the extraordinary Mansions and the people who built and inhabited them for a mere two months each summer in the years just prior to 1900 and continuing into the first half on the twentieth century, this book is perfect. Maxwell returns to the characters from her previous books in this series, introduces several new names, situates the reader in one of the famous Mansions (which is not currently accessible to the public for touring), adds a little romance and conflicted emotions, includes a menace from NYC and creates a satisfying read.

I have read all the previous books in this series except “Murder at Marble House - Gilded Newport Mysteries  #2), which I just requested from my Public Library. “Murder at Ochre Court” can be read as a stand-alone but I think any reader will enhance their enjoyment by reading some of the other books in this series first.

Thank you NetGalley and Kensington Books for a copy
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At the turn of the century, few women had careers outside of service.  Emma Cross, a poor relation of the Vanderbilt’s, has been trying to make her way as a reporter, but papers hire her for her society connections and her links to gossip.  Society reporting is lucrative but far from what Emma wants for herself. Her return to Newport coincides with the society event of the season - Cleo Cooper-Smith’s coming out at Ochre Court.  Emma plans to report on that, and rouse the opportunity to dig up information on Griggson, a wealthy builder with an uncertain past and links to a collapsed tenement.


When Cleo is electrocuted, Emma’s friend Dale is blamed for the accident.  With the sheriff, Jesse, in the hospital, Emma starts gathering information.  Cleo’s accident was clearly murder, but who would want to kill a young debutante? Is Cleo’s father complicit in Griggson’s wrongdoings?  What happened to Cleo’s first fiancé, Oliver?


Murder at Ochre Court is much better than many of the turn of the century mysteries I’ve read.  It does a wonderful job portraying the restrictions placed on women at the time, and the difficulty of cross class relationships.  While some may call the time civilized, it’s clear that the civility shown to women was a thin veneer meant to keep them in their place.  Even at the very beginning when Emma is speaking to Nelly Bly, she is told to find a rich husband who will support her endeavors. Murder at Ochre Court is a fascinating and well written historical mystery.


5 / 5


I received a copy of Murder at Ochre Court from the publisher and NetGalley.com in exchange for an honest review.


— Crittermom
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We are traveling back to Newport with Emma after a year working in New York in Murder at Ochre Court.  We find Emma at loose ends with her career dreams as things haven't quite worked out how she expected as a journalist. But arriving back in her beloved hometown has her spirits lifting. 

She is back to write an article for the society page officially, but hopes to investigate a suspicious death involving a real estate investor and a faulty building construction. But the high society ball she is covering brings the murder investigation up close and personal for Emma. 

This book brings new insights into what Emma wants from her writing and her romantic prospects. She has really matured and realized the path she wants to follow. I feel this is an excellent addition to this mystery series that keeps you on your toes in suspense. I look forward to seeing where the next installment takes Emma.
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Miss Emmaline Cross returns to her beloved Newport home to write one last society piece for New York City newspaper she thought would take her seriously. When the belle of the ball dies from electrocution, it falls to Emma to sift through the society web of lies to get to the truth of the matter.

How I do love this Gilded Mystery series! The glimpse into what it may have been like to enter one of those grand mansions in the height of there glory is one of the best parts. Of course, the characters who bring us this look are engaging in their own way.

Emma has been stuck between two men for several books, and she finally comes to a decision that is best for her. She doesn't cave to pressure or allow herself to be threatened into making choices she doesn't want to make. She has her staff to support whatever she does, and she uses her wit to carry the day.

For fans of historical mysteries, you won't go wrong with this one.
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Emma Cross has been living in New York City covering the society pages for the Herald. She is sent back to Newport to cover the debutant's ball for Cleo Cooper- Smith in the 6th book of The Gilded Age series. At the ball Cleo preparing a  scene to dazzle the guests. The lights go and when the lights return Cleo is dead. The first responders are also shocked trying to rescue Cleo. Am a meets a shoddy developer at the ball. Emma and Jesse work together to solve the riddle of why Cleo lost her life. 
Class distinctions are in play Emma has decided to remain in Newport and has made up her mind which suitor she wants.  The morals of the time are in play. I am looking forward to the next installment.

Disclosure: Many thanks to Kensington Books for a review copy. The opinions expressed are my own.
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Murder at Ochre Court offers the reader the opportunity to experience Newport's Gilded Age.  The most interesting aspect of the book for me was the reminder of the very stark class distinctions prevalent in society during that period.  Our protagonist was a member of the Vanderbilt family, but most definitely not a part of Newport's most refined high society.  Everyone knew their place, and was expected to act accordingly. It becomes interesting when individuals choose not to do so and this book's principal character is a woman trying to shatter social conventions.

I found the setting much more interesting than the story, and the characters not complex enough to really captivate me.  I read another of Ms. Maxwell's "Gilded Age Mysteries" that included Edith Wharton as an amateur sleuth and found it much more captivating---perhaps simply due to my interest in Wharton.

Despite my indifference to the characters and the plot, I enjoyed reading about the magnificent cottages/mansions of Newport and immersing myself in the high life for a few hours while I read this light mystery.

NetGalley provided me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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"In the summer of 1898, reporter Emma Cross investigates a shocking death among the bright lights of Newport's high society...

After a disappointing year as a society columnist for the Herald and staying with her more well-heeled Vanderbilt relatives in New York City, Emma has returned to the salty air, glittering ocean vistas, and grand stately mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, more determined than ever to report on hard news.

But for now she’s covering the social event of the season at Ochre Court, a coming-out ball designed to showcase Cleo Cooper-Smith, who will be literally on display, fittingly as Cleopatra, in an elaborate tableau vivant. Recently installed modern electricity will allow Miss Cooper-Smith to truly shine. But as the deb ascends to her place of honor, the ballroom is plunged into darkness. When the lights come back on, Cleo sits still on her throne, electrocuted to death.

Quickly establishing that the wiring was tampered with, Emma now has a murder to investigate. And the array of eligible suspects could fill another ballroom—from a shady New York real estate developer to a neglected sister and the mother of a spurned suitor. As Emma begins to discover this crime has unseen connections to a nefarious network, she puts her own life at risk to shine a light on the dark motives behind a merciless murder."

Oh, I was already sold, but a tableau vivant has me extra excited!
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This was a very enjoyable historical mystery. The characters were engaging and likeable, the plot was well-written, and the atmosphere was perfect. I definitely will be looking for more from the author.
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Let me start by saying that this is one of my favorite series.   The setting of the "summer cottages" in Newport, RI during the 1890s drew me in and has captured my imagination with each new book.  Every summer I look forward to the new adventures of female reporter and Vanderbilt cousin Emma Cross.

Now I must admit that the last one, Murder at Chateau sur Mer, took me awhile to read as I felt that it was heavy on the love triangle and lighter on the mystery.  Murder at Ochre Court has renewed my love for these books.  Why?  Because it focuses primarily on Emma figuring out how to move forward with both her professional desires and her personal ones.  Not an easy path to determine based on the times and customs of that time period.   In Emma's words "At Stone Villa, I had talked of having to forge an already well -worn path.  But now I must create an entirely new path for my future, and travel it for good or ill".

All I can say is the path she chose and the person she chooses to go down it made me incredibly happy!  It was growth of her character and I really am excited to see how she continues forward.

Now, this book isn't just about Emma.  It is also about the beautiful mansions of Newport and those who inhabit them.  The description of the times, norms, dressings, and parties fascinate me.  The mystery at the center of this book  allows these details to come forth and for me was quite cleverly done. 

As you may be able to tell, I highly enjoyed this book and am really looking forward to the next one.  The only sad part is I have another year to wait for it to come out!

Thank you Kensington via Netgalley for the advance e-arc.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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What a treat to read! If you are a fan of historical fiction you will like this book.  It takes place around the turn of the century, when electric was just starting to overtake gas in powering homes.   This was one of the notable theories in the murder of a young girl at her coming out gala.  Even though this is one of a series,  you can read it independently, but I think you would get more if you read the previous books.  I really enjoyed the strong female lead character and an array of colorful characters.  I was happy to have the mystery solved, but sad to have to say goodbye to Emma and her dearest friends.   I will be looking into the earlier books in the series.  Definitely recommend!!
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