Mariah Fredericks is the author of several young adult novels and has now graduated to a new genre.
A Death of No Importance, her first adult mystery, is set in New York in 1910. It’s the Edwardian era, when a small number of families, referred to as “new money,” struggled to find acceptance in the highest levels of society.
One of these is the Benchley family, whose daughter, Charlotte, causes outrage when she becomes engaged to Robert Newsome, Jr., son of one of the most eminent families in the city.
Mr. Benchley’s invention of an engine part had brought the family “oodles of money,” according to Mrs. Ogden Tyler, in her description to Jane Prescott, a lady’s maid in need of a position. Her former employer, Mrs. Armslow, had died, and Mrs. Tyler, her niece, pushes Jane to accept a position with the Benchley family. Says Mrs. Tyler of the Benchleys: “...oodles of money, but not the first notion of how to live. Live properly, I mean. What to wear, who to hire, what to serve.”
Jane soon finds her new position to be much more than that of a lady’s maid. The two Benchley daughters are in great need of someone to guide them through the intricacies of society, and Jane is just the ticket. Mrs. Tyler’s succinct summation of Jane’s qualities, “So clever and so discreet,” will be sorely tested in the days to come.
Robert Newsome, Jr., known to all as “Norrie,” proves to be a stereotypical “rich, bad boy,” with more money than he can ever possibly spend and little or no morals. Already engaged to an acceptable society debutante, he finds himself the target of Charlotte’s attentions and before he knows it, she’s telling everyone they are engaged. The big announcement is to occur at midnight at a ball hosted by the Newsome family, complete with Norrie’s presentation of his grandmother’s ring to Charlotte.
But when midnight arrived, Norrie is nowhere to be found. Eventually Jane returns to the library, thinking perhaps the reluctant bridegroom-to-be is hiding there. Instead, she finds his body, stretched out on the floor, his head bashed in.
Almost immediately Charlotte becomes the prime suspect in the murder. Although she hasn’t known her for very long, Jane finds it hard to believe the silly girl could possibly have killed him, but if not Charlotte, then who?
Word surfaces that the Newsome family had received several death threats in recent weeks. The notes referred to the Shickshinny Mine disaster of several years earlier. In that event, 121 people died, including 8 children, left to slowly died for fear that rescuers would be crushed by a further collapse of the mine shaft. Although absolved of all blame, Mr. Newsome, Norrie’s father and owner of the mine, remains a target for those trying to unionize the mine workers and improve safety standards.
Could the killer somehow be connected to this story?
Or perhaps Beatrice Tyler, the jilted lover, who earlier in the evening had a confrontation with Charlotte. Did her jealously and humiliation push her over the edge of reason?
Then there’s Norrie’s young and beautiful step-mother, Charlotte’s own sister, and a dozen or so other jilted lovers, business associates, and anarchists.
Stokely Memorial Library now has A Death of No Importance, along with numerous other mysteries.
Located at 383 East Broadway, Stokely Memorial Library is open Mondays—Saturdays from 10-5 p.m. and may be reached by telephone at 423-623-3832.