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Robert Brighton
A Murder in Ashwood

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Publish)

New Year’s Day, 1902 … Ashwood wakes up to a foul murder … Buffalo, New York … as the remains of the great Pan-American Exposition are swept away, and the bitter memories of William McKinley’s assassination at last dwindle away … the city reels again after the sensational murder of successful businessman Edward Miller, bludgeoned to death in his cozy den, in one of the city’s most fashionable enclaves: Ashwood. But for all its glamor, Ashwood guards the dark secrets of many of its young, up-and-coming residents … including those of Edward’s estranged wife Alicia, her lover Arthur Pendle, and would-be detective Sarah Payne. Soon, they will all face a hurricane of courtroom drama, public outrage, and the behind-the-scenes scheming of cold and corrupt District Attorney Terence Penrose. Meanwhile those caught up in the most scandalous crime of a new century have reputations to protect … skeletons best kept hidden away in the tidy closets of fashionable Ashwood … and plenty of reasons to prevent the truth behind Edward Miller’s murder from ever seeing the light of day – the truth that only Edward Miller, it seems, knew … Can justice be done … and the truth uncovered by Sarah’s fledgling Avenging Angel Detective Agency … before a hired killer strikes again? Find out in A Murder in Ashwood … an Avenging Angel Detective Agency™ Mystery by Robert Brighton.
Brighton follows up his gripping turn-of-the-last-century mystery The Unsealing with this return to “The Electric City” of Buffalo, New York, in the early 1900s and to intrepid society sleuth Sarah Payne, now at last bringing to life her Sherlock Holmes-inspired dream of being a professional detective. This entry finds Sarah founding her own agency while snooping around another case that exposes the dark secrets of Ashwood, the fashionable upper-middle-class enclave of a city still reeling from the assassination of President McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition. But now Sarah’s a potential suspect, too. The first moments of the new year see the murder of Ed Miller, the proprietor of an envelope manufacturing company, a man going through a messy divorce—and linked, romantically, to Sarah herself.

Setting this series apart from other historical mysteries is Brighton’s deft hand at capturing dishy lives of long ago, as his Ashwood residents gossip, scheme, preen, and love. There’s nothing genteel about this depiction, and the chatter, both elegant and earthy, has the feel of a great cocktail party: “I don’t care a fig for the vote,” one woman declares. “Let men pretend they make the decisions. I am happy behind the scenes.” But the novel’s also a dead-serious immersion in its milieu, attentive to issues of a woman’s reputation—Sarah draws some notoriety for living apart from her husband—like unjust divorce laws and rampant sexism, all as the press is eager to expose the Ashwood set’s “adultery, homewrecking, ungovernable passions.”

All that’s still fascinating today, of course, and Brighton depicts them with wit and empathy as Sarah faces grief, a corrupt D.A., and a society disinclined to support her independence. The tangled mysteries compel, turning on new-fangled technology like photographs and phonograph cylinders, and Brighton brings full complex life to several engaging women characters, including Miller’s widow. The novel’s long, but Brighton blends its elements into a polished, rewarding page-turner.

Takeaway: This polished page-turner finds scandal and a smart mystery in 1902 Buffalo.

Comparable Titles: Caleb Carr, Steven Price’s A June of Ordinary Murders.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A