Will this historical fiction murder mystery grab your attention or is it a snooze-fest to trudge through?
Set in the late 1800’s in rural North Carolina, with the luxurious Biltmore House as a backdrop, this story is full of historical figures and fictional characters blending through a slow burn murder mystery with plenty of romantic side stories thrown in for good measure.
Jordan-Lake leads us on a mystery with a slow and deliberate build in tension that never releases until the very end and Under a Gilded Moon surprised me as the final pages passed by.
Under A Gilded Moon
Author : Joy Jordan-Lake
Published : December 1st, 2020 by Lake Union Publishing
415 pages : Kindle Edition
Historical Fiction / Murder Mystery
If you aren’t aware already, the Biltmore House is a massive mansion built by the extremely wealthy Vanderbilt family back in the late 1800’s in the mountains of North Carolina.
This book finds the main character, Kerry MacGregor, being called back home to her small family farm to care for her Father and two younger siblings as their Father is very ill and not expected to survive. Their family farm sits in the very same mountains as the Biltmore House and young George Vanderbilt has basically bought up every other farm and homestead on the mountain as he builds his enormous estate.
Upon Kerry’s arrival back in her small hometown, a reporter she met on the train is murdered at the train station, but no one knows who killed him or why.
Kerry has some ideas, as she’s known back home for having “noticing” powers. She ultra observant and smart, and from there the book takes off as Kerry and many others are trying to solve this murder, but there is much more happening than we know about.
Without spoiling anything, there are multiple story arcs that all seem tied together. People on the run and attempting to start over fresh, wealthy people that seem to be hiding secrets, family histories unraveling, and along the way plenty of “will they/won’t they” love interests and romantic twists.
All of that adds up to a genre I’m typically not all that interested in, sorry, romance novels aren’t really my thing.
But the mystery elements and wonderful writing and characterization from Jordan-Lake managed to keep my interest enough to stick with the book after the first 100 or so pages, and I’m so glad it did.
The mystery unfolds in a way that feels very Sherlock Holmes, with Kerry playing the role of Sherlock. Though she isn’t AS good of a detective as Mr. Holmes, she seems to be a step ahead of everyone else in figuring out what’s going on.
Because it IS a mystery and because I don’t typically spoil the stories here anyways, I won’t say too much more about the plot. I’ll only say this.
We are presented with what appears to be a simple murder mystery set in this historical fiction setting, with real characters combining with fictional characters to create a very vivid, living, breathing world. Jordan-Lake does a wonderful job of establishing a world AND characters that all have such life and feel so well grounded and real.
As the mystery unfolds however, it’s so much more than just a simple murder mystery. There are multiple story threads happening that start to feel like they are all jumbled and knotted together in some grand conspiracy, yet by the end it all feels crystal clear – if not a slight bit of a let down that things really WEREN’T the grand conspiracy it appeared to be.
Look, I got tricked by what I thought was happening ok, it happens!
The book is full of rich, beautiful, yet very simple or minimalist style writing. I want to share a quote that may be my favorite of the entire book. In this moment Kerry is taking a moment to soak up the feel of the mountains, a place where she is HOME and feels most at peace. It might be the best description of what an overcast November day feels like in the woods that I’ve ever read.
The November skies were a dark, menacing pewter. But she’d always loved November, the way the bare limbs of the trees opened up views that couldn’t be seen in the warmer months. Opened up secrets.Jordan-Lake, Joy. Under a Gilded Moon: A Novel (p. 147). Kindle Edition.
In the end, Under A Gilded Moon is a nice blend of historical fiction and a good old fashioned murder mystery with multiple moving parts. Even a little romance thrown in for good measure.
While there are a number of beautiful passages and the writing is really well paced to bring us up and down as the action ebbs and flows along with the mystery and intensity of the story, this is a style I have a hard time really getting lost in, though that’s just me personally.
I think, if you enjoy historical fiction and murder mysteries, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s well written, the characters, while a good number are based on real historical people, are engaging, and the story flows nicely.
It’s just not a genre I really get excited about. As such, it’s an enjoyable diversion that I highly recommend for fans of the genre, but for me it just didn’t quite fully click.
Under A Gilded Moon by Joy Jordan-Lake gets a 3 out of 5 stars.
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