Here it is: a historical mystery series launch in which the story does not take place in Victorian England! I know, I could hardly believe it either. Rosemary Simpson’s mystery novel, What the Dead Leave Behind, is set in New York City during the Gilded Age. Specifically, in 1888. But stating the year is not nearly as evocative as saying “The Gilded Age,” am I right?
The novel’s detective heroine, a wealthy young woman named Prudence McKenzie, has been left orphaned by her lawyer father’s death when she is nineteen years old. The luxurious McKenzie home feels hollow and empty to Prudence, especially because she does not trust her stepmother, Victoria. Victoria seems suspiciously eager to see Prudence seek oblivion from her pain at the bottom of a laudanum bottle. Prudence brings herself back from the brink of addiction when she hears the news that her fiancee, Charles Linwood, has died as a result of what is becoming known as the Great Blizzard of 1888, which hurtled through Manhattan leaving death in its wake.
Prudence joins forces with Roscoe Conkling, her father’s colleague and best friend, and his associate, Geoffrey Hunter, who has roots in the antebellum South and is a former Pinkerton operative, to try to determine the exact circumstances surrounding Charles Linwood’s death. In the best detective novel tradition, their investigation brings more mysteries to light, especially around the past life of Prudence’s beloved and admired father.
I particularly enjoyed the characters in this book; the minor characters are as well-developed as the more significant actors. There is an interesting upstairs/downstairs aspect to the story as well; every wealthy Manhattan household of this era had at least a few servants, and the servants in the McKenzie household have their opinions and their role to play in cracking the case.
I for one am interested to watch Miss Prudence McKenzie in future series entries as she carves out a new role for herself in New York City. She may even add some extra flourishes of gilt to the age of the Robber Barons!