Friends in Cozies with Guest Alyssa Maxwell

News Flash: Kait Carson is Alyssa’s lucky winner! Kait, please check your email.

Edith/Maddie here, coasting into the end of August north of Boston.

Someone who never coasts in her writing is today’s guest, the amazing Alyssa Maxwell. (We wish we were actual sisters, but we’re not.) Her newest Gilded Newport Mystery came out this week. I love this series and can’t wait to clear a couple of evenings to enjoy the latest installment set in Newport Rhode Island more than a hundred years ago. Read down for a giveaway, too!

Isn’t that the most gorgeous cover? Here’s the blurb. Back from their honeymoon in Italy, Emma Andrews and Derrick are adapting to 1901 married life as they return to their duties at their jointly owned newspaper, the Newport Messenger. The Elms, coal baron Edward Berwind’s newly completed Bellevue Avenue estate, is newsworthy for two reasons: A modern mansion for the new century, it is one of the first homes in America to be wired for electricity with no backup power system, generated by coal from Berwind’s own mines. And their servants—with a single exception—have all gone on strike to protest their working conditions. Summarily dismissing and replacing his staff with cool and callous efficiency, Berwind throws a grand party to showcase the marvels of his new “cottage.”  

Emma and Derrick are invited to the fete, which culminates not only in a fabulous musicale but an unforeseen tragedy—a chambermaid is found dead in the coal tunnel. In short order, it is also discovered that a guest’s diamond necklace is missing and a laborer has disappeared.  

Detective Jesse Whyte entreats Emma and Derrick to help with the investigation and determine whether the murdered maid and stolen necklace are connected. As the dark deeds cast a shadow over the blazing mansion, it’s up to Emma to shine a light on the culprit . . .

Cozying up with Friends in Cozy Mysteries  

On the 22nd of this month, my ELEVENTH Gilded Newport Mystery came out. Seriously, I never dreamed! But it makes one wonder: what keeps readers coming back for more in a series, book after book? Is it the brilliantly masterminded plotting of crime, clues, and culprit?   Honestly, I don’t think so.   Is it the vividness of setting details?  

Well . . . in my case, when writing about a real place, the setting details do matter. But there’s got to be more. Otherwise, readers would surely have gotten tired of Newport by now, right? HA! – who could ever tire of Newport? No one, but that’s beside the point.

Alyssa at the Elms in Newport

So what is it that draws readers into the same setting and characters and the same game of solving the puzzle time after time? In my humble opinion, it’s the characters, of course! It’s that astute, intrepid, and—let’s face it—stubborn sleuth whom readers fall in love with. Right?   Yes! . . . And no. Once again, I believe there’s more to it. I think it’s the sleuth’s circle of friends, the sidekicks, the partners in crime-solving who create a sense of community and allow the reader to feel as though she’s part of the group—part of the sleuthing family. Because in every cozy, the author sprinkles in clues and invites the reader to join in the fun, to come along and find the answer, if she can.  

How do friends, i.e., recurring, important secondary characters, perform this function? By showing that the sleuth needs allies and a support system, that she surrounds herself with people she can trust and depend on, whom she can confess her fears to, admit her weaknesses and doubts to, and find strength with. This all makes the act of crime solving much more human, and much more relatable to the reader.  

In the Golden Age of Mystery, many sleuths were static in that they didn’t evolve as characters during the course of a series. They remained the same reliable, brilliant puzzle solvers we met in the very first book, with very little in the way of personal story arcs. They do have friends and associates, but those relationships aren’t particularly fleshed out. Modern cozies, however, have embraced the notion of character development, and much of that development depends on and determines who our sleuths welcome into their circle. 

And just as we need a sleuth who captures our imagination and sympathy, so must be the case with secondary characters. They should be smart, upbeat, and a little quirky. We need to be able to love them, to the point that we’d want them as our own friends.  

So then, who are Emma’s friends in the Gilded Newport Mysteries? To start with, she lives with her former nanny—whom she calls Nanny—who is now her housekeeper. But Nanny is much more than that. She has long been a surrogate grandmother, the person who tended to Emma’s childhood cuts and scrapes and was privy to her most pressing secrets. She provides a shoulder to cry on, encouragement, unconditional love, and a kick in the “pants” when Emma needs it. Plus, with Nanny’s connections among Newport’s servants, she’s always privy to information Emma can’t come by on her own.

Next there’s Katie, Emma’s maid-of-all work, who Emma took in after she was fired from her original position for absolutely unfair reasons. But Katie, too, is much more than an employee—she’s more of a younger sister to Emma, and fiercely loyal to her. Another vital friend is Jesse Whyte, who Emma has known all her life and who is now a detective on the Newport Police Force. Jesse comes to rely on Emma’s powers of observation and her own connections with the wealthy summer set.

Rounding off Emma’s circle are Hannah Hanson, an old friend and nurse at the Newport Hospital; harbor boatman Angus MacPhearson; Emma’s cousins, the Vanderbilts, who are always eager to take her under their wing; and Emma’s half-brother, Brady Gale. Despite Brady being a few years older, Emma has sometimes taken on an almost parental role to keep him out of trouble—and out of the overnight lockup. But there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his little sister.

And then, of course, we have Emma’s love interest—and if you’ve read the book’s blurb, you know he’s now her husband. Their relationship has developed over the course of the series, with Emma having to battle her fears of commitment, of relinquishing her independence, and of opening herself up to vulnerability. After all, marriage in those days typically meant a woman’s identity became secondary to her husband’s. But with his understanding and reassurances, she comes to realize a relationship doesn’t have to mean losing control of one’s life. Rather, she learns that when relationships are built on the right values, they make you stronger. And a strong woman can still stand out, can still shine, all on her own. She can still be a sleuth.  

Readers: Please share a time you depended on friends to help you through a difficult or challenging situation. Or do you tend to power through on your own? Comment for a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of Murder at The Elms (U.S. addresses only due to shipping costs.) I’ll be back tomorrow to announce the winner!

Alyssa Maxwell has worked as a reference book editor, ghost writer, and fiction editor, but knew from an early age that she wanted to be an author. 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 and her husband live in Florida, where they love to swim, ride their bikes, and shop at farmer’s markets and consignment stores. Alyssa also loves to watch BBC productions, sip tea in the afternoons, and delve into the past. She is the author of The Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries, and is a member of The South Florida Fiction Writers and the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.

47 Thoughts

  1. We moved to FL 6 years ago and I thought it would be easier to find friends and I have just recently meet a woman online that is also looking for a friend. We’ve gotten to the phone# stage and are going to meet up stage soon as I recover from my surgery I had the other day. I’m looking forward to having someone to talk to and have coffee with or see a chick flick with. Maybe there is hope for me. I had a close friend like we shared a playpen close. She passed away from cancer so young and I’ve been devastated ever since. But I have my many memories. Debbie and I went through all the growing pains together and there was nothing we couldn’t tell each other, no matter what. Thank you for this chance at your giveaway. pgenest57 at aol dot com

  2. Alyssa, congratulations on the new book!

    While I do generally prefer to power through on my own, last year in late September I hurt my back pretty badly. I was forced to live on my living room floor for 2 weeks. I had to have help from my friend Ann and my sister Maggie to get anything done during that time.

  3. I find friends are essential when going through a rough patch. I’m sure I wouldn’t have dealt with my breast cancer earlier this year half as well without support of family and friends – many of whom are in the crime fiction community.

  4. Congratulations on the release of latest addition to the Gilded Newport Mystery series.

    There was no guess working when it came to picking out when friends came to my aid. It was when we were dealing with Alzheimer. My Mom came to live with us after a cancer surgery and with the onset of Alzheimer. Seems the surgery kicked the Alzheimer into high gear causing it to advance quickly. Mom lived with us for 5 years. The last two were the roughest requiring 24/7 care. By that time, I had no siblings and hubby only had 2 living states away. Living in a very small town and in Arkansas, medical help of any kind was either impossible to find, very limited or completely useless. As you can imagine, the toll on body and spirit was great. It’s in a situation like that when you learn who your true friends are. So many folks, many of who we thought would be there for us, seemed to disappear into the woodwork. We found help as for anyone to sit with Mom so we could get away as a couple or to tend to business virtually impossible. Once when we did found someone and it cost us $100 plus our expenses to go out for a dinner together for a couple hours.

    It was then, that I learned that I had two absolutely fabulous friends. Even though both lived out of state, they were there for me through it all with calls, surprise lift me up gifts in the mail, video chats, letters in the mail, and many other ways. They seemed to sense what my moods are and helped to lift me up, make me chuckle, allowed me to let off steam or cry and never once judged me or told me to get over it. One even helped to figure out, with some major juggling and lots of prayers, how I could get away for a girl’s weekend where we could both travel some and meet in the middle. That weekend helped to rebuild my spirit and gave me the strength to go on. These two woman are my sisters by choice and I would go to the ends of the earth for them at any time. They sure did the same for me over a very extended time when I needed it the most.

    Thank you for the fabulous chance to win a signed hardcover copy of “Murder at The Elms”! I would love the opportunity to read and review it. LOVE your books!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Taking care of an elderly parent can be difficult enough, but dealing with one with Alzheimer’s must be all-consuming. It sound like you have some wonderful friends who helped you keep it together.

  5. When I needed treatment for breast cancer my friends rallied round and saw to it that I got to every chemo and doctor’s appointment. This was in the winter, in the far northern reaches of Maine and the treatment center was 65 miles away over snowy, rural roads. My husband was working over 300 miles away at the time and was only able to be home on weekends. My friends saw to it that I had a well-stocked freezer, wood fires laid and wood in the house in easy reach. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

  6. Big time congratulations on the new release, Alyssa! The biggest time friends and family came to my family’s aid was when my wife went through breast cancer treatment in 2009. They supported us in so many different ways that made a challenging situation much more tolerable.

  7. Congratulations Alyssa! 11 books in a series is FUN-tastic! You are spot on…we keep coming back to interact with the characters in our minds. I like to barrel on through things on my own, but if all fails, I do have my rock right beside me…my dear wife of 54 years. We discuss everything, and come up with combined solutions. We also have our son, who has proved to be such a fountain of knowledge and astuteness at times in my life. I do try to be the light in someone else’s dark hour of need, and consider that a blessing when I can do that. Thank you for sharing your stories and worlds with us readers! Luis at ole dot travel

  8. I do tend to try to power through problems on my own but I do have one friend who is like a big sister to me that I completely trust. She always knows what to do and I don’t know what I’d do without her. Thank you for the chance to win. I love the settings, details of books but it’s really the characters that will bring me back to a series. aprilbluetx at yahoo dot com

  9. Welcome back to the Wickeds, Alyssa! I love Newport and look forward to reading Murder at the Elms. What an interesting question! I don’t like to ask for help if I’m doing or dealing with something I think I can handle on my own. But I have had so many wonderful, smart, supportive family members, friends, and colleagues throughout my life. I feel lucky and will always be grateful.

  10. Having been brought up to be very independent, I always make an effort to power through. But, I am now 73 and admit I can’t always do that, so I have gratefully and, I hope gracefully, learned to ask for help when I need it. And I have been blessed with wonderful friends who always come through.

    Why do I read a series? Yes, the characters are important, But I can come up with a cast of great characters for any kind of book, but I haven’t a clue how to write a story around them. That’s where the skills of a good writer, like you, come in. Looking forward to reading the latest.

  11. Congratulations on the new book! I love the series, Emma and her community of friends & helpers never disappoint as they solve the crime.

    When my beloved uncle was in the hospital at the end of his life I was a single parent taking college courses while my son was in summer camp. Every time there was a medical problem my friends & family took over to make sure my son was cared for so I could focus on my uncle. I was blessed to have a village to help me as I struggled to support us throughout my son’s childhood.

  12. It’s amazing what good friends can do to help us through hard times! I can say for sure that I’ve been very fortunate to have friends there at just the right time, just to lend an ear, help with groceries when times were tough, car broken down – oh, way too many times to list! Now, I try very hard to Pay It Forward and help whenever/wherever I can!

  13. Being single and living alone, I do try to power through most stuff by myself. It is exhausting!

    I tend to have a couple of close friends at a time, and then they move out of town, which is always hard. I need to find some new close friends again at the moment.

    1. I’ve had that problem in recent years, friends retiring and moving on to new things and places. I miss them, and I know you do too. Oh, and don’t worry, you’re entered. 🙂

  14. When I sustained a severe knee injury requiring surgery and extensive physical therapy my friends and family were such a great support during a really difficult time. I couldn’t imagine trying to manage on my own.

  15. I tend to power through stuff on my own, but do have the support of family and friends if needed.

  16. Congratulations on another book! My two best friends and I have seen each other through a lot in the last 40 years. From bad boyfriends to job problems to health scares to deaths of loved ones.

  17. There are some things that are just too personal to share with friends. I have to bear those things alone. That is just how I am.

  18. I love this post and all the comments, Alyssa! I had a postponed 70th birthday party scheduled for early June (70 and 7 months…). Wouldn’t you know, I fell ill (not COVID) the entire week before that. My sister had planned to drive down from Ottawa and did. With her, plus my bestie of 45 years and my son and his wife, we (THEY) pulled off the logistics. I was well enough to dance at the party, but only because my loved ones had saved me from all the minutiae

  19. I met my husband in HS and we had our first date Feb. 29, 1964. We dated for 6 years, were engaged for 13 years and then married for 40 years this month. Right after we finally got married, we had issues (like man problems where is my life and what did I do) and if it was not for several neighbors and a best friend, I would not have made it through to be where we are today. I found out that I did not need him though I loved him. That made him wake up and smell the roses and we worked through it because of my growing to feel this way.

  20. The early morning hours when the fire started in the unit next door to ours, I went to my best friend’s home, my Mom. We stayed with her for a few years until we could get back on our feet. After the fire, we received so much love, support and items from friends and family. We were so grateful to all. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

  21. I am definitely not the type to go it alone. I went through a difficult period in which I lost a pregnancy, both my parents, and my husband and I separated, all within a 2 year period. If
    not for the love and support from my circle of girlfriends I am not sure
    I would have made it. They truly held me together while I slowly recovered from my massive grief. I truly believe that no man (or woman) is an island.

    I love Newport, although I have never been there. But your books transport me there and to a simpler time. Well, maybe not more simple but certainly to a very different society. Congratulations on book 311! I am behind in the series but I will keep reading them as long as you keep writing them.

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