A Gilded Death by Cecelia Tichi

If you like your murder mysteries less gruesome and more sophisticated with the addition of being set in times gone by, then Cecelia Tichi’s books will be perfect for you.

This first one in the series introduces the characters of Val and Roddy DeVere, Val being our narrator throughout. A married couple, both are wealthy but Val’s father, (and by association, Val) have gained their status and wealth through silver mining whilst Roddy is American aristocracy, with all the trappings that that involves in terms of etiquette and poise and certain standards. This leads to Val often causing the set into which she has been thrust by her union with Roddy to baulk at her behaviour and contribute the odd, barely veiled, catty remark. However, Roddy, whilst being very much part of the establishment, is also a little unusual in some of his pastimes, as he creates cocktails, which are regularly sampled throughout the novel. For those who enjoy a mixed alcoholic drink, recipes are provided, which I think is a nice aside.

Set in Newport, Rhode Island, this book follows Val and Roddy as they support their friend, Cassie through some unexpected deaths in her family. Gradually, through their interactions with others within their peer group, the truth is uncovered, and Val and Roddy mention their suspicions to each other to lead them to the truth.

Tichi’s books are not overly complicated; Val is a lively narrator and her being on the periphery of “Society” due to her joining it as opposed to being born into it, affords her a clarity, a groundedness that has not been altered by expectation. She is not a rule-breaker and she does adhere to some social mores but she is less constrained by expectation. She is not overtly critical of people around her but there is a feeling that she will never wholly integrate and will keep a level of rebellious behaviour that may raise an eyebrow, such as riding her bicycle. She is likeable and one of the strengths of the novel.

The plot is gently unfurled to a satisfying conclusion, although not overly surprising and as a reader, you leave the book feeling like you have been guided smoothly by a writer with awareness of what makes a good story, as well as luxuriating in the evocation of place and time in the Gilded Age that Tichi does with accomplishment.

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