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A Gilded Age Mystery #1

What the Dead Leave Behind

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For fans of HBO’s The Gilded Age, explore the dark side of the alluring world of America’s 19th century elite in this gripping series of riveting mysteries…

Set amidst the opulent mansions and cobblestone streets of Old New York, this enthralling historical mystery by Rosemary Simpson brings the Gilded Age to life in a tantalizing tale of old money, new love, and grave suspicion . . .

As the Great Blizzard of 1888 cripples the vast machinery that is New York City, heiress Prudence MacKenzie sits anxiously within her palatial Fifth Avenue home waiting for her fiance s safe return. But the fearsome storm rages through the night. With daylight, more than two hundred people are found to have perished in the icy winds and treacherous snowdrifts. Among them is Prudence s fiance his body frozen, his head crushed by a heavy branch, his fingers clutching a single playing card, the ace of spades . . .

Close on the heels of her father s untimely demise, Prudence is convinced Charles s death was no accident. The ace of spades was a code he shared with his school friend, Geoffrey Hunter, a former Pinkerton agent and attorney from the South. Wary of sinister forces closing in on her, Prudence turns to Geoffrey as her only hope in solving a murder not all believe in and to help protect her inheritance from a stepmother who seems more interested in the family fortune than Prudence s wellbeing . . .

Filled with richly colorful characters, fascinating historical details, and thrilling moments of suspense, What the Dead Leave Behind is an exquisitely crafted mystery for the ages.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published April 25, 2017

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About the author

Rosemary Simpson

12 books312 followers
Rosemary Simpson's What the Dead Leave Behind is set in Gilded Age New York where the Great Blizzard of 1888 brings both disaster and independence to her wealthy and unconventional heroine. Lies that Comfort and Betray is the second in the Gilded Age Mystery series, to be followed by Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets
Rosemary is also the author of two stand-alone historical novels, The Seven Hills of Paradise and Dreams and Shadows.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. Educated in France and the United States, she now lives near Tucson, Arizona.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 324 reviews
Profile Image for Julie .
4,000 reviews58.9k followers
April 22, 2018
What the Dead Leave Behind by Rosemary Simpson is a 2017 Kensington Publication.

When a record breaking spring blizzard hits New York, Prudence Mackenzie’s fiancé, Charles, was one the weather’s casualties, or so it would seem. His death, upends Prudence entire future, as the provisions and dictates in her father’s carefully worded last will and testament, which depended upon Prudence’s marriage to Charles, became null and void. This puts Prudence in a very awkward and vulnerable situation- as well a dangerous one.

Convinced that Charles met with foul play, Prudence seeks advice from Charles's best friend, Geoffrey Hunter, a former Pinkerton agent, to help her root out the truth. But, Prudence soon finds herself in the midst of a diabolical plot where her very sanity is at stake. Can she prove Charles was murdered, protect her inheritance and overcome her own personal demons before it is too late?

This first book in the “Gilded Age Mystery Series’, sets the stage for what should be a fascinating series. Set in the Gilded Age, where women were very much at the mercy of men, Prudence exhibits a great deal of grit and pluck, circumventing traditional female roles quite cleverly. She is a most interesting amateur sleuth, coping with a malady that takes great will power to control. While this was a bigger issue than many know, during this era, the mention of Prudence’s struggles, while a big part of the story, it is at times given more prominence than the mystery. I am interested to know if this will be an ongoing battle in future installments, though.

Other than that, the historical details are quite vivid,detailing the great blizzard of 1888, and the atmosphere is thick with sinister tension. The irony of the how everything comes together in the end is well played. The whodunit is quite apparent, as is the motive, but this doesn’t in any way hamper the suspense. The danger is palpable and builds to a taut crescendo!! This is definitely my kind of historical crime novel!!

The foundation is neatly set and will leave readers as eager for the next installment as I am!
Profile Image for Linda.
1,193 reviews1,245 followers
March 18, 2017
Dead men tell no tales........or do they?

A brutal snowstorm has hit New York City like the back of one's hand. Unexpected and packing a full-out whallop. It's March of 1888 and there appears to be no glimmer in this Gilded Age. Nothing but the howling blast of wind and the treacherous streets of ice and mounds of impassable snow await these city dwellers.

Yet in amazement, two dark figures appear. Charles Linwood and his lawyer, Roscoe Conkling, decide to take on the storm through Union Square Park. Charles has just signed papers in regard to a marriage settlement in which he will marry Prudence MacKenzie, the daughter of the late Judge MacKenzie. Prudence waits anxiously for Charles to come to her home. Conkling makes it to the New York Club. No sign of Charles.....until days later.

A lone figure on a street bench is found with a deep wound to the back of his head and a playing card in his pocket. A tree branch that had unfortunately hit this man or something more sinister?

Prudence MacKenzie is indeed her father's daughter. She wastes no time in contacting Conkling and is introduced to Geoffrey Hunter, a former Pinkerton agent and lawyer. But like those impassable streets piled high with snow, Prudence must contend with her stepmother, Victoria, and Victoria's brother, Donald. There appears to be no fire strong enough to melt the heart of Victoria.

Rosemary Simpson presents a fine historical mystery here with all the layering of "Upstairs Downstairs" and the intrigue of Pinkerton's legacy of analyzing clues and situations. Human nature takes a spin through upscale homes, bawdy saloons, the tenements of Brooklyn, and streets of New York where hansom cabs deposit the good and the bad to their destinations.

I enjoyed this one very much. There are some dastardly drawn characters here. It appears that this may be the first in a new series by Simpson. If it is, I'll be tuned in for the next in a heartbeat.

I received a copy of What the Dead Leave Behind through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Kensington Books and to Rosemary Simpson for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,693 reviews14.1k followers
May 3, 2017
3.5 Prudence was raised in a very privileged and wealthy environment. Her father a respected judge, and after her mother's death when she was nine, raised solely by him. Trained to notice things other young ladies in her circumstances were not, she was given an education usually afforded to men. The year is 1888, her father has now died, the widow he married three years preciously much to Prudence's dismay, her guardian until the marriage her father approved of takes place. The historic snowstorm will direly change her plans and place Prudence in danger.

I really enjoyed this rather old fashioned mystery. The time period was interesting, the characters equally so. No serial killers but plenty of adventure and danger. Enjoyed the spunky Prudence who will do anything to uncover the conspiracy of her fiancée death and the mysterious underpinnings of her father's will and his marriage to a much younger wife. A true to life lawyer, an ex Pinkerton agent and an old style crook will aid her in her discoveries. Not flashy, no alternate storylines, just good plain old writing and a wonderful evokes atmosphere. Can't begin to tell you how refreshing this was.

ARC from Netgalley..
Profile Image for Melisa.
324 reviews513 followers
March 23, 2017
This wasn't actually a whodunnit or even a whydunnit. I guess you could call it a howdunnit?

Honestly, there is little to no mystery here, it is quite straightforward as to what has occurred and why. There are a few revelations along the way, nothing that was entirely surprising or suspenseful. I was constantly disappointed at the main character searching and searching for clues and coming up with nothing. It was quite unsatisfying for a mystery reader, and really slowed the pace.

On a positive note, the book is well written and the author does a great job of depicting the Gilded Age in New York City. The facts and ways of the time are spot on and obviously well-researched. The character development, however, felt shallow to me. I felt as if I didn't get to know a single one of them well.

I really dislike writing negative reviews, this is very much a case of "it's not you, it's me." I believe a major setback for me here is that this shouldn't necessarily be marketed as a mystery.

I would recommend for readers who enjoy a slower pace and who are interested in this particular era.

2.5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Maureen.
318 reviews72 followers
July 23, 2017
I would like to thank Goodreads and Kensington Books for this ARC.

Set amidst the opulent mansions and cobblestone streets of Old New York, this historical mystery takes place during the Great Blizzard of 1888. This book was very interesting to me as I live in New York and find historical stories that took place there fascinating. I especially like to put myself in the characters place. As the Great Blizzard takes place we find Prudence who has just lost her father and is living with her stepmother. You know the type the wicked stepmother. Prudence is waiting patiently for Charles her finace’ to return. The storm is intensifying through the night. There is no sign of Charles. More than 200 people are found dead. One of them is Charles. Prudence cannot believe that Charles would have taken a risk to go out in this storm. It was not his nature. His frozen body is found with a card in is hand an ace of spades. What does this mean. Prudence doesn’t think that Charles death was an accident. There are many mysteries to this book.
I love Prudence’s character she is a very strong women. Women in 1888 can hardly do anything by themselves. They cannot even leave the house unattended. Prudence must prove that Charles death was not an accident so she can protect her inheritance from her stepmother. She find a friend in Geoff Hunter a school friend of Charles to help her, her stepmother doesn’t like this and tries to stop Prudence in very way she can. You see now that there is not going to be a wedding her stepmother gains all the family’s wealth. It was also very interesting to read about what went on in this time period. How people lived and how much corruption took place. This book is a good read. I hope you will try it.

Profile Image for Amanda NEVER MANDY.
446 reviews96 followers
September 13, 2017
**I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.**

I like mysteries. I like it when the mystery is the center of the story and it holds me in suspense until the end and I also like it when the mystery is a smaller piece of the story and it is more character-driven. I suppose the best case scenario for a mystery is for it to hold me in suspense throughout the whole story AND captivate me with truly outstanding characters. The worst case scenario would be an easily solved mystery and cardboard cutout characters. I know this sounds obvious and basic as hell but this is exactly what is going through my mind as a type this review.

Here is why:

This story opens with inheritance bound Prudence trying to cope with the recent loss of the two men in her life that matter most. What she is left with is an evil stepmother and friends that want to help her in any way possible.

That is pretty much the whole story. It really wasn’t much of a mystery, seemed to be more character-driven. I am assuming this is because it is the first book in a series so maybe introducing and establishing characters was considered to be more important. I can like a story like this (as mentioned above) but that is only if the characters are exceptionally interesting. These characters were just not that for me. You had the strong female lead mixed with a touch of knight in shining armor play that was a bit over told. So with this one I would have preferred more mystery and less Prudence is duh-mazing talk.

All in all, the writing was decent and the characters were about the same. I would place it a little less than average on my worst/best case scenario rating scale.

P.S. I did like that it dropped a little knowledge with the Great Blizzard reference, so bonus points for that.
Profile Image for Veronica .
744 reviews178 followers
June 20, 2018
There is some good potential in this start to a new historical mystery series but it remains to be seen whether or not future installments improve on this foundation. The story is set in New York, 1888, and kicks off during the Great Blizzard that hit unexpectedly in March of that year. The story is told in third person so the POV passes around to quite a few characters. The two central ones however are 19 year old Prudence MacKenzie and thirty-something Geoffrey Hunter, a lawyer and former Pinkerton agent. It's not really much of a mystery since both the identification of the guilty and the motivation is obvious from the start. The main issue for Prudence and Geoffrey is how to prove it. Though I liked the story overall, I can't say that I ever felt any real or deep attachment to the characters. There were too many important conversations that happened off the page, readers only knowing they ever occurred because one character's or another's internal monologue told us so. And I suppose that's really my main complaint about this book: too much telling and not enough showing, with regards to the various relationship dynamics, leaving it feeling a bit superficial.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,505 reviews187 followers
January 5, 2020
This was engrossing and kept me reading late into the night. I liked the main character and her desire to find the truth behind her fiancé’s and her father’s deaths. I also liked the somewhat unusual choice to have Prudence also deal with a laudanum addiction, and it be a significant part of her journey in the book from practically prostrate with grief, to not only participating in the investigation, but be in a stronger, much more focused place mentally by the end of the book.
Profile Image for Juli.
1,859 reviews473 followers
March 24, 2017
The Blizzard of 1888 brings New York City to a halt. The snow blocks transportation and 200 people that venture outside during the storm freeze to death. The storm will also completely change heiress Prudence MacKenzie's life. Her fiance, Charles, is found dead on a bench, the back of his head caved in. Officials rule that a falling tree branch knocked him unconscious and he froze to death. Prudence believes the cause of his death might be much more sinister.

Following the death of her father, Prudence's stepmother is in complete control over the household and slowly making her stepdaughter addicted to laudanum. The family attorney informs Prudence that inheritance from her father's will depends on her marrying Charles. With his death, her stepmother gains control of everything -- the house, the money, even Prudence's dead mother's jewelry. Soon, Prudence finds it hard to even leave the house. Is her life in danger? Is Charles' death murder? What is her stepmother up to? With the help of the family attorney and a former Pinkerton agent, Prudence begins to delve into family secrets. What she discovers is shocking.

I found myself completely engrossed in this story from the start. The backdrop of Gilded Age New York and the aftermath of a massive blizzard is engaging. Simpson paces the story perfectly, letting the tension build up until the very end. Although the final outcome is not shocking, the way it comes about is surprising. Well done!

I liked all of the characters. The "bad guys'' were supremely horrible. I felt justified in despising them right from the beginning. Prudence is a great main character. She is feisty, intelligent, self-reliant and brave. Former Pinkerton agent, Geoffrey Hunter, is a great male lead as well. He is dedicated to getting to the bottom of the case and protecting Prudence. I was very happy to discover that this book is just the first in a planned Gilded Age Mystery Series. Simpson has announced two more future books, Lies That Comfort And Betray and Final Portraits. I will definitely be reading more of this series!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://rosemarysimpsonbooks.com/

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**
Profile Image for Kate Baxter.
549 reviews39 followers
January 8, 2020
4.5 / 5 stars
What a delicious start to Rosemary Simpson's , "A Gilded Age Mystery" series. The writing is beautifully descriptive and often elegant; the historical detail - spot-on; and the mise en scène - historic perfection. The action and its air of suspense carries throughout the entire book.

New York City - March 12, 1888
Our protagonist, Prudence MacKenzie, having just recently buried her widower father, a respected judge, is at home anxiously awaiting the arrival of her fiancé during a fierce blizzard. He never arrives and it is soon discovered that he froze to death in a park during the storm. All of the careful estate documentation prepared by her father is suddenly on unsteady ground as Prudence and her inheritance are now under the control of her stepmother. This was not her father's Plan A. But at least Prudence is worth more to her stepmother alive than dead. It certainly won't be easy and no doubt, quite stressful. Is it Prudence's imagination or is her stepmother trying to subject Prudence to her absolute control? Odd things happen to Prudence resulting in a touch of paranoia. But then again, just because one is paranoid doesn't mean that they're not out to get you. Thus begins this wonderful tale.

I was introduced to Simpson's writing through her third book in this series, Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets . I had enjoyed it so much that I thought I should start from the beginning of the series. I was not disappointed and I look forward to reading the next installment in the series, Lies That Comfort and Betray.
Profile Image for Susanna - Censored by GoodReads.
540 reviews588 followers
June 5, 2019
Interesting. Good sense of the period (though to see Roscoe Conkling in a positive role was a surprise), and I liked the protagonists. I'm not sure it's a success as a mystery, but it's a good historical novel, so I'd read a sequel on that basis.
Profile Image for Tammie.
1,306 reviews149 followers
October 1, 2017
Set amidst the opulent mansions and cobblestone streets of Old New York, this enthralling historical mystery by Rosemary Simpson brings the Gilded Age to life in a tantalizing tale of old money, new love, and grave suspicion . . .

What the Dead Leave Behind begins during the Blizzard of 1888 in New York City. I was immediately drawn into the story as the main protagonist Prudence MacKenzie is anxiously awaiting word that her fiance has made it safely home. Prudence has just recently lost her father and is looking forward to leaving her step mother who she dislikes greatly (for good reason) behind by marrying Charles Linwood. Her father has put provisions in his will that state that as long as Prudence and Charles marry she gets the bulk of the estate including the family home. Of course all does not go as planned and Prudence discovers her stepmother, Victoria is even more terrible than she imagined.

We know right off the bat that Victoria is behind much of what happens. The real mystery here is figuring out how and also how and why some of the supporting characters are involved. Along with Victoria, there is also Victoria's brother, Donald Morley, the new maid Francis Barstow, the new butler Obedia Jackson, and the local crime boss Billy McGlory. There are several elements at play here and sorting it all out was a good deal of the fun of reading this mystery.

There are a few slow parts in the book and things were repeated a few times that I thought didn't need to be, but overall this was a very good read. I really liked the way things ended. Obviously this is intended to be the beginning of a series, and while this would be a fine stand-alone, I'm not opposed to starting another mystery series. I'll be looking forward to the next book.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Kensington Books for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review also posted at Writings of a Reader
638 reviews
September 10, 2017
208 ratings, averaging 4.1 stars! How is that possible fellow "Goodreaders"? Did we read the same book? Did the serial reviewers who live to receive free books inflate the star giving? However this happened will remain a mystery. Shall we ask Prudence and Geoffrey to investigate?

Here's what I think: the premise had promise, but the pace was too slow, the characters had no depth, the abundance of characters led to confusion, and the plot was too complicated and contrived. A relationship between Prudence and Geoffrey had no supporting underpinnings, so was not actually established, yet it was vaguely mentioned several times.

The book had possibilities , but I don't feel the author had the capability to carry it off. 390 pages should have been edited heavily. I never felt any suspense or experienced any feelings of urgency until near the end.

Normally I read a book within three days, or I stop reading. I was tempted many times to abandon this one, but I slogged along for 8 days because I was curious how the author was going to finish it and explain the various mysteries. I finished it feeling that I had been duped by the good reviews.

It's obvious this is the beginning of a series, and because I like reading mysteries set in the nineteenth century, I will probably give the next one a chance.
Profile Image for Nattie.
1,060 reviews19 followers
September 6, 2017
This one kicked off just the way I like. It had some of the most beautiful descriptions of an icy winter and snowstorm that I have ever come across. Sadly, the book started to stall out somewhere around page 100, when Geoffrey Hunter appeared.

I found myself wishing that Geoffrey would go away. He was not a bad character, but he changed the direction of the story to me. I would have rather had this be a standalone where Prudence struggled to take down her stepmother by herself. You start to get corn when a single female and a single male are thrown together, and I don't like corn.

A big issue was the overuse of the word laudanum. I never want to see it again. The paragraphs were densely packed and began giving me a headache, it took far too long to make it pass each page due to wordiness. It's another 390 page book with a 240 page story. Longer is not always better, when will writers learn that?

Profile Image for JoAn.
2,060 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2020
Ms. Simpson is a "new to me" author but I love historical mysteries so I was excited to try this book. It was an engaging read with characters that were well developed along with the detailed descriptions of New York City in 1888. As this was the first book in the series I expected a slow pace as the characters and background had to be set for reader but it also continued to be slow until the midpoint of the story. All in all it was intriguing although nothing new or shocking in this tale of blackmail, secrets and murder. I will be reading the next one in this series as I'm intrigued to see where Prudence MacKenzie will go from here.

I received a copy of this ebook from my local library.
Profile Image for Erin.
215 reviews51 followers
January 17, 2021
I felt character development was light in this read. Although the plot itself was good enough, because I didn't connect with the characters, overall ended OK. A book I'll forget ever having read.
Profile Image for Debbie.
3,173 reviews57 followers
April 4, 2017
"What the Dead Leave Behind" is a historical novel set in 1888 in New York City. It's not really mystery genre since it's pretty obvious who the bad guys are. Even the main characters felt certain they knew whodunit and were attempting to prove it. Also, the reader gets to see things (including the murders) that the hero and heroine never see and some of which they never discover.

Some suspense was created by the repeated attempts to harm or kill the heroine. However, the author included so much historical detail that the pacing was too slow to sustain a feeling of suspense. The slower pacing and attention to detail will appeal to fans of historical novels (though I noticed a couple details I suspect are inaccurate).

The characters were interesting, and the hero was gallant and generally clever. But the main characters were slow to make some obvious connections and ask some important questions of people who would have been happy to answer. The heroine assumed things rather than re-assessed what she knew based on new information.

She also kept telling herself that her step-mother underestimated her, but I felt like the heroine overestimated herself. She had potential, but she didn't act logically or even consistently. She panicked at one point and forgot something vital that had just happened. A few scenes later, she somehow located a weapon she didn't know existed and acted heroically. So...does she fall apart easily under stress or think clearly and act decisively when under threat? Sometimes she acts one way and sometimes the other.

The author would shift point of view in the middle of a paragraph and sometimes jumped in time in a way that left me briefly confused. At the end, the bad guys weren't handed over to the courts (though they were stopped). There was a brief (homosexual) sex scene. There was some bad language.

I received an ebook review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Fred.
943 reviews38 followers
April 25, 2017
What The Dead Leave Behind is the first book in the Gilded Age Mystery series.

I have to say that I consider this book one of the best that I have recently read.

The book starts on March 12, 1888, with a devastating blizzard bearing down on New York City and centers around the death of Charles Winwood.

Prudence MacKenzie is to wed Winwood in two weeks and is expecting Winwood to call on her in the evening with marriage settlement documents that she needs to sign in accordance with her father’s will.

The devastating storm had begun to cripple NYC and businesses and shops are closing early, as Winwood, Roscoe Conkling, lawyer and long-time friend of the MacKenzie’s, and William Sulzer set out for their lodgings. But the next day the body of Winwood is found sitting on a bench and death has been attributed to the snow storm.

As the story continues it becomes clear that Prudence’s stepmother, Victoria, has been dosing her with laudanum so that there is a question of her sanity so that she can get her hands on Prudence’s inheritance. So, Prudence with the help Conkling and Geoffrey Hunter, a PI and former Pinkerton agent set out to find out just who this Victoria is and what she had on Prudence father to get him to marry her.

A well-plotted and very interesting story with a wonderful cast of believable characters.

Will be watching for the next book to see what Prudence and Geoffrey will be investigating next.
Profile Image for Liberty.
1 review
December 4, 2017
I read a lot of historical mysteries that I give room to play fast and loose with the truth but this story takes a major real life person Roscoe Conklin, and makes him sympathetic to a person from the Confederacy. Really? Roscoe Conklin the super abolistionist who opposed Dred Scott and wrote the 14th and 15th amendments? Is going to be BFFs with someone from the Confederacy??? Hmm ok sure.

Also super bad is the treatment in this book of the Civil War and the Confederacy. The author seems pretty supportive and gives a lot of run to the completely historical discredited lost cause theory.

So if you are interested in books that love to be supportive and understanding of characters and ideas of people who SUPPORTED SLAVERY give this book a try I guess.
Profile Image for Jess.
2,820 reviews5 followers
June 4, 2022
This was quite interesting as a first installment in a mystery series. I'm definitely going to read more, I don't quite know how I feel about the male protagonist being the son of a Confederate family? But the female protagonist is a really interesting character and I think their partnership has real potential.
Profile Image for Aislinn.
Author 20 books90 followers
January 28, 2019
I'm a bit baffled by this book. Not the plot - that was straight forward enough - but the choices the author made. She somehow manages to ruin any tension in her own book...and I have no idea why. And then she repeats information as if it's new to the characters *multiple times*. For example. We, as readers, find out that Charles' death is a murder (not an accident) FOUR SEPARATE TIMES. First, there's the scene where the murder happens, then the scene where the mortician looks at the body and is like "yup, that's a murder" and yet doesn't tell anyone. And then there's the scene where the heroine visits the mortician and asks him about it. All these three happen in the first 15% of the book, and the first 2 are pointless. But then we get the same revelation AGAIN at about 75% into the book. Like, they know he was killed, but then they are *shocked*, SHOCKED I tell you, when Conkling says "I think I saw someone coming up behind him that night" and everyone is like "MURDER??? That's IMPOSSIBLE???" Like...what the fuck, people. You've known this all along.

Another example is over the father's death. The reader finds out the death is murder, who the killer is, and how it was done, very early on, through an omniscient POV. This sucks any tension out of the investigation. AND makes the heroine look stupid, when she YET AGAIN, has to be told like three separate times that her father was murdered and it's treated as a revelation each time. Was she just...not listening for half the book? It was frustrating as a reader, because there was NO REASON we had to know that he was murdered, who did it, and how that early in the book. It would have been far more interesting to watch it unfold as the heroine learned the depth of her stepmother's betrayal. But because the reader knows everything upfront, there's really no reason to keep reading. And I don't get why that choice was made.

The final issue I had with the book is that it completely lacked emotion. Nobody reacted to anything. Any emotion (which wasn't a lot, considering all the death that happened) was all told and not shown. This is particularly egregious between the heroine and her love interest. Like, I wouldn't think that she thought about him in any particular way, and then about halfway through she's hinting she's in love with him. Like, WHAT??? That is not a thing. I don't believe it for a second. At best they were friendly colleagues.

Oh wait, one more thing. The heroine is described as having a brilliant mind/upbringing, particularly for a woman. But that's really not shown on the page. Like, she doesn't really do a lot in this investigation, except tag along places and lie to her stepmother (without any consequences, despite the threats). I didn't buy it.

Honestly, the more I think about this book, the more frustrated and baffled I am by it. It had a lot of potential! I think if it had been written solely from the heroine's POV, so the reader got the revelations as she did (and not repeated 20 times) it would have actually been a compelling, twisty narrative. Not knowing what the stepmother's plans are, whether people were murdered, what might happen next, would have been far more entertaining. Instead, we got an author that seemed determined to sabotage her own book for absolutely no reason and I just...don't get it.

Anyway. The only reason this is a two-star read is because I did finish it and I didn't entirely hate it. I made it to the end, at least, and wouldn't have called it hate-reading. But I just wanted it to be a lot better than it was, I guess.
Profile Image for Shirley Schwartz.
1,094 reviews61 followers
January 25, 2018
I loved this book. The series had been recommended to me by a friend so I picked up the first book in the Gilded Age series. From the moment that I picked it up until I closed it on the final page, I was captivated by the story of young Prudence MacKenzie. The story begins with the real-life occurence of the Great Blizzard of March 1888 in New York City. In this book it all starts when a young man who is engaged to Prudence MacKenzie is cruelly beaten and left to die in the snow. From there we move back and forth from a mansion on Fifth Avenue, to a boarding house in Brooklyn, and to a magistrates office near Broadway. The action and the story move along quickly. The streets of old New York City come alive in this tale. At the heart, we have an evil woman who was married to Prudence's father, Judge Thomas MacKenzie and her dissipated brother. There is also a dark and mysterious butler that seems to have his own agenda. None of these people are there to look after Prudence's best interests, and she finds herself alone and frightened when her beloved father dies. Strange and dangerous things surround her and she is forced to strike out on her own to uncover the truth. An old friend of her fiance is there to help her and together they begin to unravel the web of intrigue and danger that surrounds Prudence. This book was so compelling because the characters are so wonderfully drawn and the suspense is relentless right up to the end. I have definitely stumbled onto another new and very exciting series and can't wait to read more.
73 reviews1 follower
September 26, 2019
Mild spoiler alert:

This book started with a lot of promise. At the outset it looks like the characters are interesting, and there are so many ways for the book to play out, but in the end the whole thing was a lot of Old South nostalgia, Gone With the Wind-level pining for pre-civil war 'glory', and a whole bunch of problematic gender, race and class politics.

For a book that sets itself in a very specific time period, with repeated reference to the Civil War, there was just one black person in the whole book, and he was a former slave who tenderly nursed a former owner back to health. One of the villains keeps getting described as having flat yellow eyes. And that's just the start of it.

I'm not even sure all the Confederacy stuff served any point plot-wise. We see a lot of sympathetic characters who fought for the South and turned up in the North, but at no point do we see any people who fought on principle for the North.

And the class politics. Wow. Just ridiculous, the way in which domestic labour is described in the book with the feudal expectations of loyalty, and service, while people who aspire to social or income mobility get vilified constantly.

And all of this on top of the fact that it was the most predictable story. I thought there might be something more to it, but no, the step mother really is wicked, the maids really will die for their employers, and there is really nothing exceptional about the book except its tiring regressive politics.
Profile Image for Valerie Campbell Ackroyd.
403 reviews6 followers
January 3, 2020
Partly Gothic but with an American setting

I was a great fan of Victoria Holt as a youngster. Books about heroines living in great danger in manors in England, menaced by stepmothers or other scheming relatives. Rescued by handsome men. This book has a lot of that kind of feeling except that it is set in New York City in 1888 and a few of the characters in the book did in fact exist such as McGlory, the Irish master criminal. The event that begins the book, the Great Blizzard of 1888 was also a real event, with 200 people dying. One of whom, in the book, wasn’t killed by the storm but was in fact murdered.

Prudent Mackenzie is in many ways your typical Gothic heroine. Vulnerable, alone, rich, with a scheming stepmother, as a Gothic heroine, the reader is fairly certain she is going to survive the stepmother’s evil plotting. But the ins and outs of the story are unique and it made a darned good read. New York City in 1888 comes alive with excellent descriptions of the storm, of the good and bad characters and of the city itself.

My only quibble is that there is one part of the book—to do with a hidden safe—that is never resolved. We don’t learn, at least not in this book (it is the first of a series) what is in the safe. I don’t know if that was an oversight on the part of the author or if she is saving its opening for the next book. Guess I will have to read it to find out.
Profile Image for Lori.
448 reviews9 followers
July 26, 2020
“Face your enemies and your worst fears”. Prudence MacKenzie’s father, a highly respected judge in late nineteenth century New York City, taught his daughter well. After his death three months ago and a horrible accident in the Great Blizzard of 1888 that killed her fiancé, Prudence is devastated and trapped in her luxurious home with her stepmother (Victoria, her fathers second wife after the death of Prudence’s mother) and Victoria’s odious brother Donald. At the beginning of this book I was skeptical it would appeal to me, the tired old trope of the evil stepmother and helpless stepdaughter being so overdone. However once Prudence started finding her inner strength and knowledge gained from her father and marshaling an eclectic and interesting set of allies, this book just took off and provided an entertaining and enthralling ride through the gilded age of New York. There’s wealth and privilege for sure but an excellent depiction of the seedy underbelly and the evil and opportunistic rogues of that era. Prudence’s growth into a brave, tough and formidable individual was handled so well in this story. Her informal partnership with lawyer and ex-Pinkerton detective Geoffrey Hunter was a powerful weapon to unmask and undo the murder and destruction caused by Victoria. This is the first in a new series featuring both Prudence and Geoffrey and I can’t wait to pick up #2.
Profile Image for Barb Martin.
819 reviews22 followers
December 29, 2017
"What the Dead Leave Behind" is a melodramatic piece of tripe filled with ridiculous sentence fragments, sympathy for the Confederacy and hints of racism and homophobia.

The only reason this novel got two stars is because I liked the setting and the basic gist of the story. I read it because a friend recommended it. Now, having read this drivel, I have to wonder what my friend was smoking before she recommended it.
Profile Image for Kristen.
2,173 reviews50 followers
June 14, 2022
I absolutely LOVED this book! Loved everything about it.

I found this book to be very reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca. It's a different time period and setting, but the dark and dramatic feel and almost gothic atmosphere of the story were very similar and just as engrossing. This is a story with layers upon layers of intrigue and back-stabbing, plots and secrets, and I literally could not put this book down once I started it. I read it almost non-stop, finishing it in two days and it was fantastic, with the resolution to the story being totally satisfying, which is all I'll say to avoid spoilers.

I loved pretty much all the characters in this story, all of whom were unique, complex, interesting and engaging. Not everyone was always likable, and sometimes people were likable and then they weren't, or someone seemed not very nice and eventually shifted to be likable. Like I said, this book has layers on top of layers, and the author does a great job of muddying the waters of who's doing what to whom and why to keep up the suspense and drama of the stor in a very entertaining way. There is a large cast of characters but all of them are so well written that it's not hard to keep everyone straight, even if you aren't always sure who the good guys and bad guys actually are!

Gilded Age New York City is a favourite time and place of mine, so that was an added bonus that the book was set there and then. It also allowed for some interesting plot twists and turns with the rules and strictures of that time on both women and men.

Prudence is an excellent protagonist here. At the very beginning, I wasn't sure I was going to like her, but almost immediately her strength, determination and downright bloody-mindedness about refusing absolutely to let other people control her life no matter what that required her to do really helped me connect to her. She certainly isn't perfect, but she is someone a reader can root for and enjoy going along with on the adventure this story sets for Prudence.

The way the story zips along, especially toward the end is terrific and really makes you want to keep reading to find out how it's all going to end up and if the right comuppences are going to be handed out to the right characters.

I am delighted that there is a second book in this series, because I really, really loved absolutely everything about this first book and very much look forward to revisiting these characters and seeing what sort of mayhem they get into next.
Profile Image for Stormi (StormReads).
1,757 reviews159 followers
January 23, 2018
New to me author but I can't wait to read the next one in this series and I really enjoyed this one.

It's 1888 and there is a blizzard going on outside and Prudence is worried about her intended as he is out in the horrible weather. She gets word that her fiance had perished in the snow and that it was an accident. Or was it? 

Prudence has never liked her stepmother and she is starting to think something is not right with her. She is warned not to take any more lauden from her stepmother or anything they she might give her. Is Victoria trying to get rid of Prudence, did she have something to do with her father's death, to Charles? When she finds out about the new will and how her father thought she would be married and cared for and that the will puts her in the hands of her stepmother, she starts to wonder. Victoria her stepmother pretty much gets all the money until Prudence turns thirty which is a ways off but she could get it all if something happens to Prudence. 

Prudence meets one of Charles friends and finds out that they had a signal for each other to let the other know if they were in trouble. An ace of spades and when Geoffrey finds out his friend was found with the ace in his hands he knows something is not right. Prudence and Geoffrey start looking into things and find out some things about her father that she didn't want to know but it also explains why he married Victoria. 

I really like Prudence, she is pretty independent and spunky. She knows something is off because her stepmother has gotten rid of pretty much everything her father had, especially papers. Prudence and her father were close and he left her hints as he wasn't all dumb and knew Prudence would be able to figure out some hiding places.  We really don't get to know Charles but he sounded like he was a good guy and I felt bad for Prudence. I do like Geoffrey, he is an ex pinkerton agent turned lawyer and so he knows how to find things out. They would make a great couple! :) 

Great start to a new series and I can't wait to get the next one to find out what kind of trouble Prudence and Geoffrey get into!
Profile Image for Eden.
1,720 reviews
April 21, 2020
2020 bk 143. There are a lot of good historical mysteries out there, then there are the ones that stand out. This one stands out, but not likely with a lot of male readers. The story of women's right to make decisions about her own inheritance, where she lives, and how hard it was to develop a purpose beyond marriage and children is not one easy for anyone to read, let alone a male who might not want to believe this was the way it was. Our main character has suffered the loss of her father and fiancee in a short period of time. Her evil stepmother and her stepmother's brother have figured out how to control Prudence by addicting her to laudanmum. Desperate and feeling alone, Prudence learns that she isn't, alone that is. Her father's lawyer and her fiancee's best friend want to help, but they are themselves restricted by the law. It is up to Prudence to find a way to permit them to help her, and she does. A very intricate, well-plotted mystery. This is not just a woman's mystery. It is the history of women and men and how the law worked in their relationships in the late 1800's.
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