Excerpt from A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Death of No Importance

A Mystery

by Mariah Fredericks

A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks X
A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 12, 2019, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg

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Print Excerpt

1

I will tell it. I will tell it badly, forgetting things that are important and remembering things that never happened. In that, this narrative will be no different than any other. Only the specifics of what is forgotten and remembered will distinguish it as mine.

Why tell it at all, then—a story already so well known, concerning, as it does, wealthy families, a handsome couple, and murder?

Because the story you have heard is wrong. The headlines you've seen, the editorials bemoaning the sorry state of our modern world—all sincere and well intentioned. But since they did not know the truth of the matter, all quite beside the point.

Many decades have passed. There is no one now living who experienced that particular horror—except for myself. And who am I to claim to know the truth behind what may have been the first of the many Crimes of the Century?

Nobody. Less than nobody.

I was Charlotte Benchley's maid.

But before you dismiss my tale as a gain-inspired fantasy of a woman seeking brief, cheap fame, let me say something. It is the life's work of some to pay attention to things others wish to ignore. If it is your job to make sure the silver is clean, you must have a sharp eye for tarnish. If the sheets are to be smooth and straight, you must first find the wrinkles. In the matter of the Benchleys and the Newsomes, I saw the tarnish, the wrinkles, and the dirt.

If it is your opinion that a maid does not possess the capacity to understand these things, then there is no reason to read on.

But if your view is otherwise, please, continue.

* * *

At the time of the events that so enthralled the country, I had been with the Benchleys for a year. My former employer had died, leaving the bulk of her fortune to charity—and me without a job.

It was a time for funerals. The city had only recently stopped mourning the aristocratic Mrs. Astor when it became necessary to don the crêpe for my employer, Mrs. Armslow, who was connected by birth or marriage to the finest families in the city. In England, the rakish Edward VII was ailing. Leopold of Belgium had died. Earlier that year, the Apache chief Geronimo died in a prisoner of war camp at the age of nearly ninety. According to the newspapers, he had remained "one of the lowest and most cruel savages of the American continent," merely biding his time in captivity until he could return to the warpath.

After the memorial, Mrs. Armslow's niece, Mrs. Ogden Tyler, sought me out. Coming from a less affluent wing of the family, Mrs. Tyler had a democratic streak. Laying a light, friendly hand on my arm, she said, "Now you'll think me a perfect ghoul, but I must ask: have you found a new position?"

When I shook my head, she said, "Well, here's what you must do. A dear friend of mine, a Mrs. Benchley, has just moved here from Scarsdale of all places, and she is quite desperate. Her husband invented—or is it patented?—an engine. An engine part. Or was it something to do with rifles? At any rate, whatever it is, the government wants it. The point being: 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. The poor woman has two daughters, as I do, and so I thought to myself, how can I help? And the very first thing that came to my mind? Jane. Jane's so clever, I said to myself. So clever and so discreet. Dear Jane, you're just what the Benchleys need. Won't you see them?"

When I arrived at the Benchley home in May of 1910, I came with the best recommendation an employee can have: the failure of all who preceded me. The Benchleys had taken up residence in a five-story town house on Fifth Avenue. Located on Forty-ninth Street, it was perilously close to the commercial district. But Mrs. Tyler had avoided the bullying ostentation of some of the newer millionaires and steered them to a house that was reassuringly modest—by millionaire standards at least.

Excerpted from A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks. Copyright © 2018 by Mariah Fredericks. Excerpted by permission of Minotaur Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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