The Wharton Plot

Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2024. 304p. ISBN 9781250827425. $28. M
Fredericks’s (The Lindbergh Nanny) superb mystery delves into the enigmatic mind of Gilded Age literary doyenne Edith Wharton, as the author of The House of Mirth looks into the murder of a muckraker. In New York City, 1911, Edith is listless. Her writing feels lifeless, her marriage, loveless. She is introduced to a fellow writer, David Graham Phillips, whose soon-to-be-published novel will expose the “truth” of the powerful and powerfully corrupt in society. Taking an instant dislike to his proletarian harangues, she puts him out of her mind—until Phillips is murdered. Phillips’s sister asks Edith for help to ensure that the controversial manuscript is published (sharing with her the mysterious death threats her brother received days prior to his demise); soon Edith begins to receive the foreboding warnings herself. Caught up in the mystery of Phillips’s murder while navigating her own midlife crisis of love and lost opportunities, Edith’s determination to find the killer becomes a near obsession.
VERDICT Thanks to a literary plot laced with arch wit and precise put-downs, appearances by Wharton’s famous friends (including Henry James and the Vanderbilts), and an eclectic assortment of the upper crust in the waning days of a varnished era, Fredericks hits this one out of the park.
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