Book Review: Murder at the Breakers

Murder at the Breakers - Alyssa Maxwell

Book: Murder at the Breakers


Author: Alyssa Maxwell


Genre: Fiction/Historical/Mystery


Summary: As the nineteenth century comes to a close, the illustrious Vanderbilt family dominates Newport, Rhode Island, high society. But when murder darkens a glittering affair at the Vanderbilt summer home, reporter Emma Cross learns that sometimes the actions of the cream of society can curdle one’s blood…

Newport, Rhode Island, August 1895: She may be a less well-heeled relation, but as second cousin to millionaire patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, twenty-one-year-old Emma Cross is on the guest list for a grand ball at the Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ summer home. She also has a job to do - report on the event for the society page of the Newport Observer. But Emma observes much more than glitz and gaiety when she witnesses a murder. The victim is Cornelius Vanderbilt’s financial secretary, who plunges off a balcony faster than falling stock prices. Emma’s black sheep brother Brady is found in Cornelius’s bedroom passed out next to a bottle of bourbon and stolen plans for a new railroad line. Brady has barely come to before the police have arrested him for the murder. But Emma is sure someone is trying to railroad her brother and resolves to find the real killer at any cost… - Kensington Books 2014



I found this book while organizing the mystery section at work. Since I've been to the Breakers and I love the Newport mansions, I figured that this was a perfect read to attempt. This book is the author's first novel and it's clear that she intends in the make a series using the different mansions as the connecting points.


Spoilers will be kept to a minimum.


The mystery is pretty basic and straightforward. It would be a good introduction to the genre if anyone who has never a read a mystery before was interested in checking it out. The novel features an amateur sleuth on her first case, but this is no Nancy Drew. The heroine, Emma Cross, is related to the Vanderbilts, which explains her relationship to the Breakers and the Newport Mansions themselves. 


As I said before, the mystery itself is simple, basic murder mystery. There's nothing overly complicated involved. This would make sense granting that it's Emma's first mystery to solve and all, but it was lacking a certain quirkiness to it all. It was a bit too much cut and paste murder mystery. 


Emma herself is a "modern" woman trapped in a society that doesn't accept her free spirit and independent thinking - just like most historical fictional and mystery novels that involve amateur female sleuths. The references to her "not being like one of her rich relatives" or her "pro-feminine" thinking are numerous and, at times, actually annoying. They detract from the mystery itself and, occasionally, I'd ask myself if the author was just trying to fill up space or make it seem like it's taking longer to solve this mystery than it actually does.


One of the major drawbacks is that this is limited in its audience. What do I mean by this? Well, unless you've actually been to Newport or have seen pictures, you have little to no clue as to how the set up works for the world the mystery takes place in. There is very little description of Newport itself and Maxwell doesn't spend a lot of time setting up the scene as Emma moves from location to location. She, Maxwell, is very general in her descriptions, making the imagining part of reading the novel slightly more difficult. An example of this would be the Breakers mansion itself. There is very little described when Emma is actually there. Sure, there's a painting of the exterior on the cover, but the inside is much more ornate and Maxwell seems to rely on the fact that her readers will have already seen the Breakers. If they haven't it's harder to picture the locations and scenery within the novel.


I'd say this mystery novel would work well with beginner mystery fans and intermediate mystery fans. Hardcore mystery fans, who are used to complicated plots and twists, will have a harder time enjoying this novel, I think. Simplicity doesn't hurt, but it doesn't have the same thrill as a more complicated crime. There's a lot of unnecessary description of what Emma is doing and why she does it. Maxwell appears to focus more on telling rather than showing in her prose. Emma doesn't need to describe every single thing she does, nor does she need to explain why she does certain things all the time. It's clear enough from her actions and body language as to why she says and does the things she says and does. This choice to explain everything certainly may help beginning readers, but it doesn't work for more "experienced" people within the mystery reading community.


The last "complaint" is that the love story that happens between two main characters does feel rushed and underdeveloped. Maybe it'll be developed more in future novels? Who knows, either way, he's coming back in the next novel and the sparks are sure to fly. It just feels too sudden for me.


I give Murder at the Breakers a B+.




Please support the author by buying your copy online or in a bookstore. If not, you can always give a gift card. :) Thank you!