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Death, Diamonds, and Deception
Gilded Age Mystery #5
BY Rosemary Simpson

Nov 2020/ ISBN 9781496722126

Reviewed by Elise Cooper


Death, Diamonds, and Deception by Rosemary Simpson delve into the Gilded Age in New York during 1889. This historical mystery has a female detective, Prudence MacKenzie, and her partner ex-Pinkerton detective, Geoffrey Hunter, investigating the stolen jewels from a necklace once owned by Marie Antoinette.

“I wanted to take Prudence and Geoffrey back into the upper echelon of NY society. I put the story in December 1889 but referred back to May 1887 when the jeweler Tiffany bought 1/3 of all the French crown jewels auctioned off. I thought, what if the diamonds of Marie Antoinette found its way into a gorgeous necklace created by Tiffany and then it was stolen.”

The story begins after the arrival of Prudence's aunt, Lady Gillian Rotherton, from London. She intends to chaperone her niece Prudence through a New York social season to find a suitable husband. One of society's biggest affairs is the Assembly Ball, where her aunt hopes Prudence will meet a prospective husband. Prudence agrees to go only if Geoffrey escorts her. While there, Lady Rotherton determines that the stones in the spectacular diamond waterfall necklace adorning the neck of the wife of banker William De Vries are fake. To avoid scandal, the banker employs the investigative firm of Prudence and Geoffrey to discreetly recover the stolen diamonds pried out of their settings. As they find people of interest and pursue their elusive quarry, there is a string of mysterious deaths related to the theft.

The writing was so descriptive that readers feel that they were actually in the Gilded Age of New York. The street conditions, the social distinctions and interactions, the expectations of women, the parties, the carriages, and much more came alive with Simpson's writing style.

I researched about the balls. The Assembly Balls were exclusive. They were magnificent balls. I read the New York Times archives describing the societal balls: who attended, what did they wear, what was the starting time, what was the menu, and what did they eat. The gambling places were like palaces. People dropped an enormous amount of money. When I sent Prudence and her aunt there, it was a very daring move. Only men went except for the expensive ladies of the night or mistresses. In addition, there were many dives in the slum area where people gambled on everything and anything."

Prudence, an unusually independent young woman in 1879 New York, is from the upper echelon of society but abhors the insincerity and snobbery part of it. While Prudence is a reluctant part of the upper class, Geoffrey was a reluctant part of his Confederacy past. Because she is fiercely independent and not interested in marriage's limitations, she is struggling with feelings of love for Geoffrey that may threaten her independence.

Anyone who enjoys historical fiction set in the Gilded Age is sure to enjoy this one. In this book, crime was the focus of the stories, while the characters took a backseat.

Reviewed 2021
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