by Julie, enjoying the waning days of summer in Somerville
We’re talking about research on the blog this month, so Alyssa Maxwell’s post is perfect. Who’s up to a field trip to Newport once all this is over? Welcome back to the blog, Alyssa!
Good morning Julie, Wickeds, and Readers! It’s such a pleasure to be talking to all of you, especially since I’m just now coming up for air after finishing up my ninth Gilded Newport Mystery. It’s called Murder at Wakehurst and it’ll be out next summer. Before I jump into things, I want to let you know I’ll be doing a giveaway with this post, open to U.S. residents. Answer the question at the end in the comments section to be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of Murder at Kingscote.
Anyway . . . I’m often asked how I choose each house I write about. My reasons vary, actually. Sometimes I choose the house itself, while other times I choose the family who lived in it. The most famous of all the Newport “cottages” is The Breakers, and the most famous name from the Gilded Age is Vanderbilt, so starting off the series with the Vanderbilts and The Breakers was an easy decision. Now, for Murder at Crossways, I very much wanted to explore the character of the owner’s wife, Mamie Fish, who was `known for her irreverent sense of humor and extravagant personality. Crossways isn’t one of my favorite houses, but I knew Mamie would be a fun sidekick for Emma Cross in that story. Mamie didn’t disappoint.
Such was not the case in Murder at Kingscote. The widowed owner, Ella King, was quiet, intelligent, thoughtful, dignified, and a dedicated philanthropist. Kingscote itself is one of the smallest of Newport’s cottages, nowhere near on a scale with The Breakers or Ochre Court. So why did I write about it? Simply because I love this house, as do most people who have ever visited it. I love its Gothic Revival-fairytale exterior, and the delightful mingling of design styles inside. I felt compelled to include this jewel of a house, but at the same time I wondered if I would have trouble finding enough details about the family to make them appealing characters.
Boy, did I worry for nothing! Through the Preservation Society of Newport County, I discovered a treasure trove of letters and journal entries written by the King family—and suddenly I was off and running. Through those documents and further research, I discovered Eugenia Webster-Ross, a woman who cast a legal shadow over the King family for years with her claims of being the true heir to the King fortune and Kingscote itself. I discovered that Ella King’s son, Philip, was a near-do-well who drank too much. I discovered that William Henry King, Ella’s husband’s uncle who had first purchased Kingscote, was committed to an insane asylum due to his “reckless lifestyle.” And I discovered that Newport held its first-ever automobile parade in the year I set the story, 1899.
Insanity. Drunkenness. Rival claimants to the inheritance. And reckless drivers. I’d struck gold with this one! And it led me to some new places and themes for Emma. But just to make things a more difficult, I gave her a real moral dilemma near the end of the story. What if someone committed a crime for a very good reason? Do you still turn them in and let the justice system decide—even if innocent people will suffer as a result? Poor Emma also faces a career crisis. I’m not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say she has her hands full in Murder at Kingscote!
Question for giveaway:
I was recently asked this question myself. What kind of mystery reader are you? Do you like to figure out who done it and why before the end of the book? If so, are you usually right? Or are you along for the ride, happy to live the events along with the characters until the big reveal near the end? Can you guess what kind of reader I am? **NOTE Alicia is the winner of Murder at Kingscote!**
About Murder at Kingscote
In late nineteenth-century Newport, Rhode Island, journalist Emma Cross discovers the newest form of transportation has become the newest type of murder weapon . . .
On a clear July day in 1899, the salty ocean breeze along Bellevue Avenue carries new smells of gasoline and exhaust as Emma, now editor-in-chief of the Newport Messenger, covers Newport’s first-ever automobile parade. But the festive atmosphere soon turns to shock as young Philip King drunkenly swerves his motorcar into a wooden figure of a nanny pushing a pram on the obstacle course.
That evening, at a dinner party hosted by Ella King at her magnificent Gothic-inspired “cottage,” Kingscote, Emma and her beau Derrick Andrews are enjoying the food and the company when Ella’s son staggers in, obviously still inebriated. But the disruption is nothing compared to the urgent shouts of the coachman. Rushing out, they find the family’s butler pinned against a tree beneath the front wheels of Philip’s motorcar, close to death.
At first, the tragic tableau appears to be a reckless accident—one which could ruin Philip’s reputation. But when Emma later receives a message informing her that the butler bullied his staff and took advantage of young maids, she begins to suspect the scene may have been staged and steers the police toward a murder investigation. But while Emma investigates the connections between a competing heir for the King fortune, a mysterious child, an inmate of an insane asylum, and the brutal boxing rings of Providence, a killer remains at large—with unfinished business to attend to . . .
To see where you can buy Murder at Kingscote, visit the Kensington Publishing Corp site.
About Alyssa Maxwell
Alyssa Maxwell began a love affair with the city of Newport years ago. Time and again the colonial neighborhoods and grand mansions drew her to return, and on one of those later visits she met the man who would become her husband. Always a lover of history, Maxwell found that marrying into a large, generations–old Newport family opened up an exciting new world of historical discovery. Today, she and her husband reside in Florida, but part of her heart remains firmly in that small New England city of great historical significance. For more info please visit www.alyssamaxwell.com.