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.