Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ashley Weaver's Murder at the Brightwell, a classy '30s murder mystery

Historical fiction writers are in the midst of a grand affair with the interwar years of the ‘20s and ‘30s, an era that gave rise to what’s been called the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Populating many of these stories were high-born protagonists caught in situations that obliged them to turn amateur sleuth; the novels’ plots unfolded in a fashion designed to draw in inquisitive readers via logically planted clues and multiple red herrings.

Ashley Weaver’s debut, Murder at the Brightwell, pays homage to these classics with its retro ambiance and subtle wit, yet at the same time it feels remarkably fresh and vibrant. The heroine, the trippingly-named Amory Ames, has a confidence that springs from her wealthy background and skill in social situations, but she’s less certain about one important facet of her life: her playboy husband Milo’s true feelings about her.

In 1932, Amory’s former fiancé, Gil Trent, invites her to take a trip to a Kentish seaside resort.  Seeing that Milo often does his own thing without bothering to consult her, she decides to accept.  Gil hopes that Amory, due to her own unstable marital state, will be the perfect person to convince his sister, Emmeline, that the man she hopes to wed, the slick womanizer Rupert Howe, is bad news. And perhaps Gil and Amory might rekindle what they once had… the same thought no doubt sits in the back of both their minds.

With its white marble floors and ritzy furnishings, the Brightwell Hotel is a scene of gracious sophistication, but while the remaining vacationers in Gil’s loosely gathered party – insipid socialites, unhappy couples, others with secrets to hide – aren’t the most pleasant company for Amory, they make for a great cast of characters for a murder mystery. After Amory spies Rupert’s body lying at the base of a cliff, Gil is carted off as a suspect, leaving Amory to clear his name – with the surprising help of a new arrival, Milo, who may simply see the investigation as an amusing distraction. Or maybe he really wants Amory back?

With her assured attitude and determination, Amory is a bright spot amid a sea of upper-class insouciance, and it’s entertaining to watch her developing rapport with the straitlaced cop assigned to the case (and his probing curiosity about her ever-changing marital situation). Weaver, a librarian by profession, brings a sense of classy ’30s style to her first novel, which is a winner in every respect, and one especially recommended to fans of Agatha Christie, Nicola Upson, and other writers of traditional mysteries.

Murder at the Brightwell was published by Minotaur Books this month ($24.99 / Can$28.99, hardcover, 325pp).  Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy at my request.

8 comments:

  1. Like the story and like so very much the cover!

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    1. I agree - the cover is fabulous!

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  2. This sounds like a really fun read. Thanks for the suggestion.

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    1. It is really fun. Amory and Milo make for an entertaining couple - even though (or maybe because) they don't know where they stand with the other.

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  3. I'm addicted to historical novels. And now, after finding your blog -- so well-written that it is almost a book in itself -- I suspect I can it to my "must-have" list! Thanks for all the effort that you clearly put into this. We readers appreciate it!

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    1. Thanks very much for your comments on my site - the positive feedback is appreciated!

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  4. I like that "trippingly named."

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    1. The author mentions in her note at the end how the name Amory Ames just came to her, so that she had to use it in a novel. It works well for the story (and has a nice ring to it, too).

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