Murder on the Bride’s Side, by Tracy Kiely – A Review

An old Richmond, Virginia plantation, a festive wedding and family disputes set the stage for murder in Tracy Kiely’s novel Murder on the Bride’s Side, the second novel in the Elizabeth Parker mystery series inspired by Jane Austen’s classic novels. A year ago, Kiely wowed me with her debut novel Murder at Longbourn loosely based on characters from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This time we follow the further adventures of her endearingly flawed, angst ridden sleuth Elizabeth Parker as she draws strength and great quotes from Sense and Sensibility.

The story picks up eight months after Elizabeth solved a double murder at her aunt Winnie’s B&B in Cape Cod. She and her boyfriend Peter McGowan (who she reconnected with in Murder at Longbourn) are still an item, but the challenge of a long distance relationship niggles at her insecurities. He is joining Elizabeth in Richmond, Virginia while she fulfills her maid-of-honor duties for her best friend Bridget Matthews whose wedding is at the family estate Barton Landing, a former tobacco plantation fronting the James River. It would not be a proper old southern family without an elderly potentate to wield their cane and pelt cross words at their children, so Kiely has supplied us with Elsie Matthews, a meddling grand dame who likes to match make and foretell the future. Upon Elizabeth’s arrival her ominous prediction of “death is coming” ultimately comes to pass the day after the wedding when the body of her daughter-in-law Roni is found brutally murder with a large kitchen knife in her chest. This is a tragic event, so why is no one grieving?

Elizabeth soon discovers that almost everyone in the Matthews clan wanted Roni dead. She is what Barbara Bush quipped “a noun beginning with b and rhyming with witch.” She was the much younger second wife of Elsie’s eldest son Avery, the heir presumptive and president of a thriving landscaping company whose recent stroke has left him in a wheelchair. His scheming wife (with a man-made figure) was determined that he sell in order to slow down and enjoy life. This news sends the family into a tailspin of anger and fear, so much so that someone commits murder to stop her.

Among Elsie’s three children and their families the chief suspect is Bridget’s cousin Harry Matthew’s, a Willoughby-like playboy who is often in his cups but not at all the killing kind. Because of Elizabeth’s success with sleuthing out the murderer at her aunt’s B&B last January, she is called upon by Bridget to find the proof of the real murderer and free Harry. Could it be Roni’s browbeaten teenage daughter Megan, Avery’s starchy infatuated nurse Millicent McDaniel, womanizer and family leech David Cook, Avery’s jilted girlfriend Julia Fitzpatrick, or Elizabeth herself, who is found in possession of the valuable diamond necklace missing from Roni’s body? Add to this drama the coincidence of Peter’s former flame, wedding coordinator Chloe Jenkins, is on the prowl again and Elizabeth will need to channel the Dashwood sisters: Elinor’s inner strength and Marianne’s passionate determination to solve the crime.

Written from her heroine’s perspective, it was a delight to return to Kiely’s breezy, familiar, blog-like writing style. It drew me into Elizabeth’s anxious world as a singleton and struggles with confidence in her own abilities, building upon my desire for her to succeed. Like Austen, Kiely excels at endearing characterization supplying an array of odd, interesting, unique but somehow familiar characters. I particularly appreciated her descriptive use of metaphor and subtle humor. This mystery enthusiasts paid close attention to clues, had my predictions, but was still surprised at the final reveal. My major quibble is that this novel has even less connections to Austen than her previous outing. If you are going to claim that it has been drawn from Sense and Sensibility, you better deliver. Elizabeth’s ongoing relationship with Peter had its ups and downs – but really – how could anyone not be besotted by a man who can quote lines from Cary Grant movies by heart? Kudos to St. Martin’s for the beautiful cover. BIG improvement. I am looking forward to Tracy’s next murder mystery in the series inspired by Austen’s Persuasion. Yay! Men in blue. Go Wentworth.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Murder on the Bride’s Side, by Tracy Kiely
St. Martin’s Press (2010)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0312537579

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview & Excerpt from Murder on the Bride’s Side, by Tracy Kiely

As regular readers of this blog well know, Jane Austen and murder mysteries are my genres of choice. Combine the two, and I’m as giddy as Lydia Bennet with an invitation to Brighton.

Last year I discovered a new author who blended both of my favorite flavors into an Austen inspired parfait. Murder at Longbourn introduced us to Elizabeth Parker, a young lady with the intelligence and wit of our favorite heroine Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and the angst and insecurities of Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’ Diary. Author Tracy Kiely even supplied us with an arrogant, standoffish hero in Peter McGowan. The results were a witty and intriguing cozy mystery that was surprisingly sophisticated for a debut novel.

Due out August 31st is the next book in the series, Murder on the Bride’s Side. This time the story is inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Here is the publisher’s description:

Drawing from the classic Sense and Sensibility, Tracy Kiely continues the adventures of Elizabeth Parker, the likable Austen-quoting sleuth, in this witty and charming series.

Elizabeth Parker suspected that fulfilling her duties as maid-of-honor for her best friend, Bridget, was going to be murder. And no sooner is the last grain of rice thrown than she finds herself staring into the dead eyes of Bridget’s Aunt Roni, a woman whose death is almost as universally celebrated as Bridget’s nuptials. The horror only increases when Harry, Bridget’s cousin, becomes the chief suspect. The idea is ludicrous to the family, because Harry is one of the kindest, most compassionate people imaginable. To complicate matters, Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Peter, appears to be falling for an old flame, a gorgeous wedding planner. Determined to clear Harry of the crime, reign in Bridget’s impulsive brand of sleuthing, and figure out where Peter’s heart lies, Elizabeth sets her mind to work.

Tracy Kiely has again brilliantly combined the wit and spunk of Austen’s protagonists with a contemporary, traditional mystery. With a vibrant cast of characters, the lush setting of a Virginia estate, and irresistible humor, she delivers on all counts.

Excerpt from chapter one:

“A death is coming,” Elsie remarked blandly, glancing upwards.

Looking up, I followed her gaze and saw three seagulls gliding on crisp September air. My left temple throbbed slightly at this news. Not, ironically, out of any fear that her prediction would come true, but rather at the explosive effect it might have on the people with me. Elsie is a sophisticated, educated woman, but she has a propensity for fortune telling that would try the most patient of souls. The year I turned twelve, she told me that I would grow up to “marry a rocker and live a life of international travel.”  I had a mad crush on Peter Gabriel at the time and immediately began practicing what I anticipated to be my married name, Elizabeth Gabriel. I even envisioned myself managing his world tours.  Obviously, I wasn’t the most perceptive child. I’m now twenty-seven, have never been married, and work as a fact checker for a local paper in Virginia. As for the international travel, I did once accidentally wander into the duty free shop at the airport, if that counts.

Elsie’s declaration hung in the air, much like the seagulls. Next to me, I was relieved to see that Blythe’s only response was a simple roll of the eyes.  Twenty-eight years as Elsie’s daughter-in-law has inured Blythe to Elsie’s fondness for predictions.  It still irks her, but she has learned to hold her tongue. Bridget, however, Blythe’s daughter and Elsie’s granddaughter, has not yet learned such restraint.

“Elsie!” she burst out. (No one in the family ever calls Elsie anything other than Elsie – the mere idea of calling her “Grandma” or “Nanny” is laughable). “For Christ’s sake! Don’t start this crap now.  The wedding is tomorrow and my nerves are shot as it is!”

Elsie and Blythe, polar opposites in most everything, were united in their response.  “Don’t swear, Bridget,” they said automatically. It was a refrain I had heard directed at Bridget many times over the years.  It had never had any effect, of course, but that didn’t stop her family from trying.

Elsie tilted her black Jackie-O sunglasses down an inch and gazed at Bridget with tranquil blue eyes.  “I am only stating what I see.  And what I see are three seagulls flying overhead — in a city. Which is,” she continued calmly, “a well-known sign that a death is coming.”

“You know what’s another well-known sign?” retorted Bridget with feigned politeness.

I grabbed Bridget’s hand before she could illustrate the gesture, hoping to prevent what would have been the twenty-sixth argument of the day, but Elsie only laughed.

Further reading

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely – A Review

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely (2009)Fall is in the air, and if you are looking for a great new murder mystery novel to cozy up with, Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely is a excellent choice. Cleverly combining a traditional drawing room detective story and a comedy of manners, this surprisingly witty and beguilingly suspenseful whodunit is actually a contemporary chick-lit romance detective story. Whaaat? you say? Yes, that’s right. Just think of Pride and Prejudice meets Ten Little Indians meets Bridget Jones’ Diary and you will get my drift. 

Singleton Elizabeth Parker has just dumped her two-timing boyfriend and accepted an invitation from her eccentric Aunt Winnie to help host a theatrical “Murder Mystery Party” on New Year’s Eve at her new Cape Cod B&B, amusingly named The Inn at Longbourn in honor of Elizabeth and her aunt’s affinity to all things Austen. When Elizabeth arrives and discovers that her aunt has employed her childhood nemesis Peter McGowan to help run the Inn, she is less than pleased at the prospect of meeting him again. Their awkward reunion reminds Elizabeth’s of painful memories as an over-weight, buck toothed ten-year old tormented and locked in a basement with the spiders. Bruised ego throbbing, Elizabeth endeavors to subdue her anger and Bridget Jonesish self-depreciating insecurities by chanting aphorisms: “I will have inner poise. I will not let Peter McGowan get under my skin. I will not allow myself to be locked in a dark basement. I will have a calm and relaxing New Year’s.” Peter on the other hand, is just too broodingly arrogant to believe in inner reproach. 

The New Year’s festivities are going well until the “Murder Mystery” party turns deadly, when one of the guests becomes a body in the library so to speak. The local police suspect everyone in attendance, and especially Elizabeth’s aunt Winnie who has means, motive, and opportunity to do the deed. To clear her aunt as a prime suspect Elizabeth must become an amateur sleuth discovering clues and following leads to uncover the back story of the relationships of the guests. Odious Peter, the last man in the world whom she could ever be prevailed upon to ask for help turns out to be not such a shmuck after all, once Elizabeth moves beyond her prejudices and Peter his pride! Hmm? Sound familiar? 

In the tradition of the popular Stephanie Barron Jane Austen mystery series, Murder at Longbourn is a cleverly crafted mystery infused with endearing characterizations and a satisfying romance. Janeites will be thrilled with all of the Pride and Prejudice lore as they encounter references to shelves in the closet, a snooty cat named Lady Catherine, and a hero and heroine that mirror Austen’s protagonists Lizzy and Darcy. Mystery novel lovers will be enthralled with the large cast of possible suspects, a minefield of clues, and the great red herrings thrown in to keep them guessing until the very end. Unfortunately,  I did have a difficult time keeping track of the multiple characters introduced in the beginning of the book who soon fade away, and much to my disappointment as the pages progressed the story became more reminiscent of Agatha Christie than Jane Austen. Not to worry. These flaws are minor quibbles in comparison to its burgeoning charms.

Once in a great while I have the pleasure of having my bonnet blow off by a new author from left field. Kiely has crafted a winning combination of cozy mystery and Austenesque wit, and I hope that she finds her audience. I am looking forward to solving another murder mystery with Elizabeth Parker when the next book in the series, Murder on the Bride’s Side, arrives next year. Let’s hope her publisher gives it a more attractive cover. 

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely
Minotaur Books, New York (2009)
Hardcover (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0312537562

Additional reviews

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for September

According to Jane, by Marilyn Brant (2009)The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in September, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.  

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired) 

According To Jane, by Marilyn Brant 

Here is a bright new face on the Austen sequel/inspiration market. In this contemporary novel, Jane Austen’s ghost inhabits teenage Ellie Barnett’s thoughts, guiding her through all of life’s romantic and unromantic dilemmas. Since we all know that Auntie Jane never steered any of her heroines in the wrong direction, Ellie has excellent advice, or does she?  (Publisher’s description) It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. From nowhere comes a quiet ‘tsk’ of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there. Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go – sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham. Still, everyone has something to learn about love – perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. Kensington. ISBN: 978-0758234612 

Darcy and Anne, by Judith Brocklehurst (2009)Darcy and Anne: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Catherine will never find a husband for Anne, by Judith Brocklehurst

Another Pride and Prejudice sequel which I am I happy to say is focused on the emancipation of Miss Anne de Bourgh, a minor character who sorely deserved a make-over. (Publisher’s description) It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Catherine will never find a husband for Anne. When a fortuitous accident draws Anne away from Rosings and her overbearing mother’s direct influence, she is able to think and act for herself for the first time ever. In the society of her cousins Darcy and Georgiana, and, of course, the lively Mrs. Darcy, Anne reveals a talent for writing and a zest for life. Meanwhile, Lady Catherine is determined to choose a husband for Anne. But now that Anne has found her courage, she may not be so easy to rule. Anne de Bourgh is a sympathetic character whose obedience and meekness were expected of women in her day. As she frees herself from these expectations, Anne discovers strength, independence, and even true love in a wonderfully satisfying coming-of-age story. Sourcebooks Landmark. ISBN: 978-1402224386

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely (2009)Murder at Longbourn: A Mystery, by Tracy Kiely 

Ready for a cozy mystery with a Pride and Prejudice theme? This debut novel by Tracy Kiely just might do the trick. Set in contemporary Cape Code, her Elizabeth Parker is as clever, witty and spirited as Jane Austen’s original Lizzy Bennet, but in addition to dealing with her love life, she is in the throws of a murder. (Publisher’s description) Planning New Year’s resolutions to rid her life of all things unhealthy, Elizabeth Parker has dumped fatty foods, processed sugar, and her two-timing boyfriend. Indeed, the invitation to join her Aunt Winnie for a How to Host a Murder Party on New Year’s Eve at Winnie’s new Cape Cod B and B comes just in time. But when the local wealthy miser ends up the unscripted victim, Elizabeth must unearth old secrets and new motives in order to clear her beloved aunt of suspicion. The suspects include the town gossip, a haughty rich woman, and an antiques business owner much enamored of his benefactress, a Mrs. Kristell Dubois. If that isn’t bad enough, Elizabeth must also contend with her childhood nemesis, Peter McGowan—a man she suspects has only matured in chronological years—and her suspicions about his family’s interest in Winnie’s inn. Minotaur Books. ISBN: 978-0312537562 

Darcy's Temptations, by Regina Jeffers (2009)Darcy’s Temptation: A Sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, by Regina Jeffers 

Ah, Mr. Darcy. We can never get enough of him. In this creative Pride and Prejudice sequel, Darcy has lost his memory and has an adventure without Lizzy. Oh my! (Publisher’s description) By changing the narrator, Darcy’s Temptation turns one of the most beloved literary love affairs of all time on its head, even as it presents new plot twists and fresh insights into the characters’ personalities and motivations. The author faithfully applies Jane Austen’s fun-to-read style, suspenseful narrative, and sardonic humor to her own imaginative tale of romantic entanglements and social intrigue. Four months into the new marriage, all seems well when Elizabeth discovers she is pregnant. However, a family conflict that requires Darcy’s personal attention arises because of Georgiana’s involvement with an activist abolitionist. On his return journey from a meeting to address this issue, a much greater danger arises. Darcy is attacked on the road and, when left helpless from his injuries, he finds himself in the care of another woman. Ulysses Press. ISBN: 978-1569757239 

My Cousin Caroline: The Pemberley Chronicles No 6, by Rebecca Collins (2009)My Cousin Caroline: The Pemberley Chronicles Book 6, by Rebecca Collins 

You’ve got to hand it to author Rebecca Collins. She is one creative and persistent Janeite pumping out Pride and Prejudice continuations in rapid fire. Actually, she wrote the ten book series over several years. We are just now fortunate to have international publication through Sourcebooks. My Cousin Caroline is the sixth filly out of the gate in The Pemberley Chronicles series. (Publisher’s description) Mr. Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth’s cousin Caroline Gardiner take center stage. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Caroline develops from a pretty young girl into a woman of intelligence and passion, embodying some of Austen’s own values. Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, and the Wickham’s all move through the story as Caroline falls in love, marries, and raises her children. Caroline rejects the role of a compliant Victorian wife and mother, instead becoming a spirited and outspoken advocate of reformist causes in spite of the danger of scandal. Caroline’s advocacy of reform, undaunted by criticism, demonstrates strength in a time when a woman’s role was severely restricted. Sourcebooks Landmark. ISBN: 978-1402224317 

Waiting for Mr. Darcy, by Chamein Canton (2009)Wating for Mr. Darcy, by Chamein Canton 

The description of this book just made me smile. For all you ladies of a certain age waiting for Mr. Darcy to knock on your door, this book will both charm and inspire you. The author’s advice – “Open your eyes and your heart. He may be closer than you think.” (Publisher’s description) Three friends over forty still wait for Prince Charming in the form of their favorite Austen character, Mr. Darcy. Not quite ready to turn in their hot chick cards for the hot flashes of menopause, they’d like to find a man who is charming, smug, intelligent and cute to share the primes of their lives with (even if one of them doesn’t know she’s looking). Together they navigate this brave forty-plus world and find out that Mr. Darcy is closer than they think. Genesis Press. ISBN: 978-1585713516 

Austen’s Oeuvre 

Jane Austen: The Complete Novels (Collector's Library Edition) 2009Jane Austen: The Complete Novels (Collector’s Library Editions), by Jane Austen, illustrated by Hugh Thomson 

Oh yum! 720 pages of all Austen all the time and with colorized Hugh Thomson illustrations. What greedy Janeite could ask for more? (Publisher’s description) This title includes more than two hundred full colour illustrations by Hugh Thomson. All Jane Austen’s novels are presented in one volume. It features Jane Austen’s romantic world captured by her finest illustrator, Hugh Thomson. It also includes Thomson’s beautiful and evocative illustrations hand-coloured by Barbara Frith, one of Britain’s finest colourists. Barbara Frith’s renderings of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations have won the approval and commendation of both Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton and The Jane Austen Centre in Bath. This title contains extended biographical note and accompanying bibliography. It is presented in page size 270mm X 210mm; 720 pages; printed laminated case and dust jacket. CRW Publishing Limited. ISBN: 978-1905716630 

Nonfiction 

Reading Jane Austen, by Mona Scheuermann (2009)Reading Jane Austen, by Mona Scheuermann 

I just love Austen scholars. They keep pumping out treatise after treatise in the pursuit of the Holy Grail of Austen scholarship. This one springs from Austen as a moral barometer of her times. Jane Austen’s grand niece Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh wrote a biography of her great aunt admonishing those who thought Austen’s novels were written as moral lessons. Best that she avert her eyes on this one. (Publisher’s description) Reading Jane explores Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion against their historical and cultural backdrop to show precisely how Jane Austen sets out the core themes of British morality in her novels. Austen’s period was arguably the most socially and politically tumultuous in England’s history, and by replacing the novels in this remarkable era, Scheuermann sharply defines Austen’s view of the social contract. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 978-0230618770 

Austen’s Contemporaries 

A Simple Story (Oxford World's Classics), by Elizabeth Inchbald (2009)A Simple Story (Oxford World’s Classics), by Elizabeth Inchbald 

Elizabeth Inchbald, née Simpson (1753 – 1821) was an English novelist, actress, and dramatist who may be most famously remembered for her play Lover’s Vows which Jane Austen featured in her novel Mansfield Park. Both ladies wrote during the same time period, but their personalities and lifestyles appear complete opposites of each other. Austen lived quietly in the country and wrote about the country gentry she experienced, while Inchbald was an active performing actress touring Great Britain, writing plays and novels gently influenced by her radical political beliefs and desire of personal independence. A Simple Story is one of two novels she wrote. (Publisher’s description) When Miss Milner announces her passion for her guardian, a Catholic priest, she breaks through the double barrier of his religious vocation and 18th-century British society’s standards of proper womanly behavior. Like other women writers of her time, Elizabeth Inchbald concentrates on the question of a woman’s “proper education,” and her sureness of touch and subtlety of characterization prefigure Jane Austen’s work. Oxford University Press USA. ISBN: 978-0199554720 

Lord Byron Selected Poetry (Oxford World's Classics), by Lord Byron (2009)Lord Byron Selected Poetry (Oxford World’s Classics), by Lord Byron 

“I have read Corsair, mended my petticoat, & have nothing else to do.” Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 8 March 1814 

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, of Rochdale, (1788 – 1824) was a British poet and a prominent figure in the Romantic Movement. It is no surprise that Jane Austen mentions reading The Corsair in an 1814 letter to her sister Cassandra. As a writer also strongly interested in poetry, she would be keenly interested in new works. Byron was wildly acclaimed as a poet and scandalous social figure. His reputation as “mad, bad and dangerous to know” came from his well publicized affair in 1812 with the married Lady Caroline Lamb. Austen would later mention Lord Byron along with Mr. Scott in her novel Persuasion, as an example of superior writers when her characters Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss literature and poetry. This reprint of his selected poetry by Oxford was edited, introduced, and noted by Jerome J. McGann, John Stewart Bryan Professor of English, University of Virginia. (Publisher’s description) Lord Byron was a legend in his own lifetime and the dominant influence on the Romantic movement. His early fame came in 1812 after the publication of Childe Harold. Relishing humor and irony, daring and flamboyancy, sarcasm and idealism, his work encompasses a sweeping range of topics, subjects, and models, embracing the most traditional and the most experimental poetic forms. This selection of Byron’s works includes such masterpieces as The Corsair, Manfred, Bebbo, Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN: 978-0199538782 

Movie Adaptations 

Sense and Sensibility, BBC Miniseries (1971)Sense and Sensibility (1971) 

This elusive and never before aired in the US miniseries of Sense and Sensibility produced by the BBC in 1971 will be available on DVD on September 29th. Staring Joanna David (Mrs. Gardiner in P&P 95) as Elinor Dashwood and Ciaran Madden as Marianne Dashwood, this three hour miniseries should be a treat for Austen enthusiast in the US who have only heard tales of its existence. Its reappearance on the video scene now requires a re-numbering of Sense and Sensibility movie adaptations, since the 1981 version had been considered the first available – with no hope that this could ever resurface. Now, if the 1967 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries pops out of the vault, the fan numbering system will have to be re-mastered also. Special features include: Audio Commentary, deleted Scenes, interviews, outtakes and photo gallery. BBC Warner. UPC: 883929081202 

Until next month, happy reading! 

Laurel Ann