Deeply troubled as her uncle falls under suspicion and haunted by memories of a woman she once knew, Jane―with the help of old friends and new acquaintances, reporter Michael Behan and music hall pianist Leo Hirschfeld―is determined to discover who is making death into their own twisted art form.
At first blush, the core mystery of Death of a New American is a small, straightforward one. But by the final page, Fredericks has revealed a surprisingly complex explanation for just what happened in that tower nursery ... Fredericks paints these evocative happenings with an assured, delicate hand, making this as much a historical novel as a murder mystery ... Jane is a compelling, forthright narrator. Her unorthodox background and friendships give her a clearer-eyed perspective than many around her ... Death of a New American’s greatest strength, however, lies in how effortless a read it is. Too often with historically-set stories, the plot bogs down in details and facts; so many authors feel the need to impress their audiences with their scholarship, or have a hard time paring down their research. Not so here ... Fredericks clearly knows her setting, but never lets it overwhelm her characters, keeping the pace quick and the prose light even when touching upon heavy topics. It takes real skill to craft a story that has substantial meat on its bones and yet can be devoured in only a sitting or two, and Death of a New American proves Fredericks has that knack. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read from prologue to epilogue.
Ms. Fredericks’s tour of old New York—from a seedy Bowery dive to the gilded palace of a department store—is eye-opening, and her mystery well-spun. But what makes this book a stand-out is its affecting depictions of interactions that transcend race, creed, gender and generations.
While the book can flag in the middle, an exciting ending and a charming character in Jane provide ample compensation. This is well worth recommending to patrons who liked the other books in the series as well as to those who are in the market for an Upstairs, Downstairs–tinged mystery.