Death of an American Beauty by Mariah Fredericks – Spotlight

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Mariah Fredericks who is celebrating tomorrow’s release of her newest book Death of an American Beauty, the third in her Jane Prescott series.

Jane Prescott is taking a break from her duties as lady’s maid for a week, and plans to begin it with attending the hottest and most scandalous show in town: the opening of an art exhibition, showcasing the cubists, that is shocking New York City.

1913 is also the fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation speech, and the city’s great and good are determined to celebrate in style. Dolly Rutherford, heiress to the glamorous Rutherford’s department store empire, has gathered her coterie of society ladies to put on a play—with Jane’s employer Louise Tyler in the starring role as Lincoln himself. Jane is torn between helping the ladies with their costumes and enjoying her holiday. But fate decides she will do neither, when a woman is found murdered outside Jane’s childhood home—a refuge for women run by her uncle.

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.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“‘Four score and seven years ago . . .’ ”

I looked up from the script. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Tyler. That’s the Gettysburg Address. You’re meant to be reciting the Emancipation Proclamation.”

“Am I?” Louise exhaled fretfully. “Oh dear.”

“‘That on the first day of January . . . ,’ ” I prompted.

“‘. . . first day of January . . .’ ” Remembering the rest of her line, she rattled off, “ ‘In the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty- three . . .’ ”

“‘All persons held as slaves . . .’ ”

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“‘. . . shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’ ”

“‘Forever free,’ ” Louise echoed, and removed her stovepipe hat. “What does thenceforward mean?”

“From now on, I suppose.”

“Well, why didn’t Lincoln just say so?”

As a lady’s maid, it wasn’t for me to defend the stylistic choices of the martyred sixteenth president. But while Lincoln had been eloquent in the face of civil war, congressional opposition, and the pistol of John Wilkes Booth, he had probably never faced a salon of society ladies, as Louise was preparing to do. In fact, he rarely visited the city, which had twice refused to vote for a Republican seen as insensitive to the commercial benefits of the slave trade.

However, it was the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and New York had embraced its commemoration with gusto. Which was how Louise found herself balancing a makeshift stovepipe as she struggled to recite Mr. Lincoln’s great speech.

Bored by the traditional dinner parties, the city’s great ladies were keen to display their artistry in different ways. Tableaux vivants and amateur theatrics were the rage. One might enjoy Mrs. Halsey’s Brutus on Monday, Mrs. Foster Jenkins’s selections from Die Fledermaus Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Mrs. Fortesque’s torrid attempts at Apache dance. And so, led by Dolly Rutherford of Rutherford’s department store— the newest and most ostentatious of the ladies’ shopping paradises, which billed itself as the place “Where every American Beauty blooms!”— my employer Louise Tyler and others were to perform “Stirring Scenes of the Emancipation” in a week’s time.

Being tall and willowy, Louise had been chosen to play the Great Emancipator himself. This was an honor that one might have thought due the hostess. But Mrs. Rutherford was round of figure and short of stature. At one point, it was suggested she play Harriet Tubman, but in the end, she had accepted the almost equally, if not more, important role of Mary Todd Lincoln. (The part of Harriet Tubman went to Mrs. Edith Van Dormer. Having died earlier that month, Mrs. Tubman would be spared that performance.)
About the Author:Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives with her family. She is the author of several YA novels. Death of an American Beauty is her third novel to feature ladies’ maid Jane Prescott.

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