Preview of Murder Most Austen: A Mystery, by Tracy Kiely

Darcy VS Hathaway ???

My faithful readers will know how much I love a good mystery. I follow the Masterpiece Mystery series Inspector Lewis on PBS with a bloody passion, and when I am not reading Austenesque books, I can be found with my nose in a good whodunit. If pressed I will admit with reluctance that Mr. Darcy would win in a throw down against Sargent Hathaway. Now, if it was Henry Tilney vs. Hathaway, well that’s a no brainer.

Some of favorite mystery authors are: Tasha Alexander, Dashiell Hammett, Jacqueline Winspear, Alexander McCall Smith and Georgette Heyer. Top on my mysteries “to be read” list is Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Highly recommended by Austenesque author Diana Birchall (Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma), it is one of her all-time favorite books no less. How could I have missed it?

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge 2011Occasionally, authors indulge me and combine my two favorite diversions: mystery and Jane Austen. It is like a left, right punch to my reading sensibilities. I get a bit light headed at the thought of it. I have devoured all eleven Stephanie Barron’s Being A Jane Austen Mystery Series and all six of Carrie Bebris’ Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries as they arrived. Now I am in for a treat. The fourth Elizabeth Parker Mysteries by Tracy Kiely is due out tomorrow, September 4th. I am all anticipation…

Murder Most Austen is set in the historic Georgian-era spa town of Bath, England (deep into Janeite territory) where Elizabeth Parker and her Aunt Winnie (who we were first introduced to in Murder at Longbourn) meet an odious professor who claims that Austen’s texts have hidden sexual subplots (take note Arnie Perlstein) and that Austen’s death was not by natural causes (yes, you too Lindsay Ashford). LOL. Is this art imitating life, or, Kiely’s tongue-in-cheek jab at modern Austen culture? Anyway, the pompous professor is bumped off while wearing his Mr. Darcy costume during a ball. Poetic justice you ask? You be the judge. Here is the publisher’s description:

Murder Most Austen, by Tracy Kiely (2012)A dedicated Anglophile and Janeite, Elizabeth Parker is hoping the trip to the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath will distract her from her lack of a job and her uncertain future with her boyfriend, Peter.

On the plane ride to England, she and Aunt Winnie meet Professor Richard Baines, a self-proclaimed expert on all things Austen. His outlandish claims that within each Austen novel there is a sordid secondary story is second only to his odious theory on the true cause of Austen’s death. When Baines is found stabbed to death in his Mr. Darcy costume during the costume ball, it appears that Baines’s theories have finally pushed one Austen fan too far. But Aunt Winnie’s friend becomes the prime suspect, so Aunt Winnie enlists Elizabeth to find the professor’s real killer. With an ex-wife, a scheming daughter-in-law, and a trophy wife, not to mention a festival’s worth of die-hard Austen fans, there are no shortage of suspects.

This fourth in Tracy Kiely’s charming series is pure delight. If Bath is the number-one Mecca for Jane Austen fans, Murder Most Austen is the perfect read for those who love some laughs and quick wit with their mystery.

Excerpt of Murder Most Austen

CHAPTER 1

There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.” —PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

IF I HAD KNOWN that someone was going to kill the man sitting in 4B three days hence, I probably wouldn’t have fantasized about doing the deed myself.

Probably.

However, as it stood, I didn’t have this knowledge. The only knowledge I did have was that he was a pompous ass and had not stopped talking once in the last two hours.

“Of course, only the truly clever reader can discern that it is beneath Austen’s superficial stories that the real narrative lies. Hidden beneath an attractive veil of Indian muslin, Austen presents a much darker world. It is a sordid world of sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, abortions, and incest. It is in highlighting these darker stories to the less perceptive reader that I have devoted my career,” the man was now saying to his seatmate.

I guessed him to be in his late fifties. He was tall and fair, with those WASPy good looks that lend themselves well to exclusive men’s clubs, the kinds that still exclude women and other dangerous minorities. His theories were so patently absurd that at first I’d found his commentary oddly entertaining. However, as Austen herself observed, of some delights, a little goes a long way.

This was rapidly becoming one of those delights.

From the manner in which the young woman to his right gazed at him with undisguised awe, it was clear that she did not share my desire to duct-tape his mouth shut. Her brown eyes were not rolling back into her head with exasperation; rather, they were practically sparkling with idolization from behind her wire-framed glasses. While both our faces were flushed from his words, the cause for the heightened color on her elfin features stemmed from reverence; the cause of mine was near-boiling irritation.

Read the full excerpt

Watch for Austenprose’s Kimberly Denny-Ryder’s review of Murder Most Austen to be posted here on Wednesday, September 12th.

Read our previous reviews of Tracy Kiely’s Elizabeth Parker Mysteries

Murder Most Austen: A Mystery (Elizabeth Parker Mysteries #4), by Tracy Kiely
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books (2012)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-1250007421

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose
© Tracy Kiely, Macmillan

Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery by Tracy Kiely – A Review

Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery, by Tracy Kiely (2011)Guest Review by Aia A. Hussein

Following in the footsteps of her previous works Murder at Longbourn and Murder on the Bride’s Side, author Tracy Kiely has just released Murder Most Persuasive. Wherein she previously drew plot inspiration from such Jane Austen classics as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, in this new mystery novel she’s set her sights on Austen’s beloved Persuasion, re-imagining the classic tale against a modern backdrop and involving, yet again, her Austen-quoting sleuth, Elizabeth Parker.

After the death of Elizabeth’s great-uncle Martin Reynolds, the Reynolds family house is sold.  Much to everyone’s surprise, the new owners discover the body of a man under their newly dug-up pool who is later identified as Michael Barrow, the former fiancé of Martin’s eldest daughter Regina.  It had been assumed that Michael had run off eight years earlier after embezzling over a million dollars from the Reynolds family business.  The discovery of Michael’s body not only unearths questions about the earlier scandal, but it also brings Detective Joe Muldoon, former boyfriend of Martin’s second daughter Annabel (or Ann), back into the picture.  Eight years earlier, Ann had been pressured by family and a close family friend to break off her relationship with Joe, a decision she has come to bitterly regret.

Emboldened by past detective successes, Elizabeth spearheads a movement to discover Michael’s murderer, an effort that becomes all the more urgent when police begin to treat Ann as their prime suspect.  Making matters worse is Ann’s stepmother Bonnie who bizarrely escapes to a spa retreat as soon as her late husband’s funeral is over and returns with a younger man who claims to be an investor eager to get his hands on Bonnie’s and the girls’ inheritance.  Throw Elizabeth’s know-it-all sister who’s suddenly determined to help with the investigation, the mysterious behavior of her Reynolds cousins, and a boyfriend who is ready for Elizabeth to move in with him into the mix and you’ve got a very complicated situation that Elizabeth is determined to navigate.  All this and, of course, she must gently nudge Ann in Joe’s direction, eager that Ann not make the same past mistakes.  Will Elizabeth locate the murderer before he or she can strike again?  And will Ann gain the confidence and courage she needs in order to pursue a relationship with a man that her family has deemed unworthy?

Ann’s story should recall the story of Austen’s Anne Eliot who is forced to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth because he fails to live up to the expectations of family and close friends.  In fact, it becomes increasingly clear throughout the novel that Ann Reynolds is the modern-day equivalent to Anne Eliot, an overlooked middle daughter who must learn to trust her own instincts rather than allow others to easily persuade her.  Persuasion’s Anne Eliot has always been one of my favorite Austen heroines and it’s delightful to see a contemporary reincarnation especially since authors tend to gravitate more towards Austen’s arguably most famous heroine, Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett.  While I love Lizzy, there is a quiet strength about Anne that I have always found admirable and it’s gratifying to see that quiet strength reborn in a modern Ann.

While Persuasion serves as a source of inspiration for Murder Most Persuasive, most of Kiely’s novel is made up of original material with numerous characters and one or two twists thrown in for good measure.  Like most well-written mystery novels, Murder Most Persuasive is suspenseful and the reader will definitely try and figure out the murder mystery along with Elizabeth.  I, admittedly, think that some of the characters and plot elements could have used more development but this novel is perfect for end-of-summer reading – entertaining, suspenseful, and Austenesque – with Janeites appreciating how Elizabeth always has the right Austen quote for every situation.

Aia A. Hussein, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and American University, pursued Literature degrees in order to have an official excuse to spend all her time reading.  She lives in the DC area and is a devotee of Jane Austen and all things Victorian.

4 out of 5 Stars

Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery, by Tracy Kiely
Minotaur Books, NY (2011)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0312699413

© 2007 – 2011 Aia A. Hussein, Austenprose

Preview of Midnight in Austenland: A Novel, by Shannon Hale

Midnight at Austenland: A Novel, by Shannon Hale (2012)In 2007 bestselling young adult novelist Shannon Hale ventured into adult fiction and brought us the enchanting Austenland – a trip to a fantasy vacation resort in England with a Regency theme. The heroine Jane Hayes gets a chance to live her “secret addiction to the 1995 A&E television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and all things Darcy.” It was a Janeite favorite. Now she is offering readers a chance to return to Pembroke Park for a new Regency inspired adventure with deep Austen overtones and a Gothic infused mystery to solve. Wouldn’t Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey be right at home in this novel? Here is the publisher’s description:

Beloved, bestselling author Shannon Hale returns to Austenland, where bonnets are in vogue and gentlemen can dance, where one might still find real love — and real murder!

In Midnight in Austenland, Shannon Hale takes us back to Pembrook Park, the lovely English resort where women can play out their Jane Austen fantasies. But this time things take a turn for the Gothic: a little Northanger Abbey infusing our Mansfield Park.

Charlotte Kinder of Ohio is consummately nice. Maybe too nice. Her teenage kids don’t appreciate her, and she lets her jerk ex-husband walk all over her. But she’s also clever. And when she treats herself to a two-week vacation in Austenland, it turns out that she’ll need her wits about her. With everyone at Pembrook Park playing a role, it can sometimes be difficult to discern what’s what. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is the mysterious ailment from which Miss Gardenside suffers? Could the body Charlotte discovers during a parlor game be an actual corpse? And – perhaps of the most lasting import – could the stirrings in the heart of our crime-solving heroine be a sign of real-life love?

The sequel to reader favorite Austenland provides all the perfectly plotted pleasures of the first book, with a feisty new heroine and plenty of fresh twists. There’s romance, there’s humor, there’s intrigue, and at last – just as it always happens in Austen – everything turns out right in the end.

Continue reading

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 crosswords 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 fewer 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

Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press ©2010; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Austenprose

Inspector Lewis: The Dead of Winter on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Dead of Winter © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Inspector Lewis continues tonight on Masterpiece Mystery with another new episode of the popular detective series based in Oxford where the death toll since its predecessor Inspector Morse hit the airwaves in 1987 must place this small college town as the epicenter of “malice aforethought” in England. The Dead of Winter involves sad connections to the past, lost treasure and sordid family secrets — all prime motives for murder. This new (to the US) episode guest stars an array of former Austen movie adaptation actors that many Janeites will recognize and reveals some personal insight into the past of Inspector Lewis’ (Kevin Whatley) dishy young Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). It is a complete turn-around in comedic tone to last week’s Counter Culture Blues take on Lewis in a psychedelic rock and roll haze. Here is the PBS synopsis:

An Oxford academic is dead on a tour bus and none of the other passengers even took notice. The curious case leads back to Crevecoeur Hall, a vast, history-rich Oxford estate, and as it happens, the setting for much of Detective Sergeant Hathaway’s (Laurence Fox) youth. Hathaway reconnects with his past — and Scarlett Mortmaigne, the daughter of the estate’s owner. But is he also consorting with a main suspect? It’s a case that threatens to expose the shortcomings and secrets of a wealthy family, cloud Hathaway’s judgment and ultimately put his relationship with Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) in jeopardy. Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) guest stars.

This episode was centered around enigmatic Sergeant James Hathaway, Lewis’ smart, stoic and sarcastic young partner. Over the past three seasons we have seen his instincts sharpen, his skills honed and his confidence build from his professional relationship with his governor. In The Dead of Winter he takes the forefront in the investigation and I am pleased to see he is finally being given more than walking one step behind Lewis or looking over his shoulder while he interviews suspects. His character is by far the most interesting of the regulars in the series. We know very little about him other than he attended Cambridge, once trained as a priest and does not date. Occasionally a script will throw a female in his path, but if a hardened career crow and a transsexual psychopath are the kind of relationships he has encountered, no wonder he is celibate.

This time round Hathaway is given another opportunity to hang up his virtual clerical collar when he reconnects with Scarlett Mortmain (Camilla Arfwedson – Miss Marple: Murder is Easy), a beautiful aristocrat who he grew up with at Crevecoeur Hall (crëvecoeur is French for heartbreak), a grand country estate near Oxford that his father managed for the Mortmaigne family twenty years ago. When he arrives on the scene to investigate the possible murder of Professor Black, you can see his apprehension and project where this story will go. There is a painful history here, and if you pay attention, much will be revealed beneath the dialogue and his reactions.

There appears to be additional personal secrets being harbored by others too. The Marquise of Tygon, the elderly patriarch Augustus Mortmaigne’s (Richard Johnson – Mr. Wickham, Pride and Prejudice 1952) bank has just gone belly up and his daughter Scarlett is being used as quid pro quo to refill the family coffers by marrying a Lebanese millionaire Tarek Shimali (Richard Saade). The Marquise’s much younger wife Selina (Juliet Aubrey – Middlemarch) who he married when she was seventeen is having an affair with his nephew Philip Coleman (Nathaniel Parker – Vanity Fair) and his young son and heir Titus (Jonathan Bailey) is dallying with a servant Briony Grahame (Georgia Groome). Orchestrating this upstairs downstairs tango is the vacant stuttering butler Paul Hopkiss (Pip Carter) who also was a playmate of Scarlett and Hathaway in what he terms “happy days”.

When a bloody candlestick discovered by Hathaway in the Crevecoeur Hall family chapel is matched to Dr. Black, Lewis and Hathaway suspect the priest Father Jasper Hugh O’Conor (James Morland – Northanger Abbey 2007) when they unearth his tragic connection to the victim. Shortly after another death is linked to the case when the present estate manager Ralph Grahame (Jonty Stephens) is found dead by gunshot and a murder-suicide is suspected. After Lewis reveals his belief that the real motive to murder was a fifteenth century royal treasure on the estate, Hathaway thinks his boss has lost it.  He can’t understand why Lewis won’t accept that Grahame killed Dr. Black for running off with his wife. Lewis can’t accept why Hathaway seems to be protecting the Mortmaignes.

Even though I dearly love to laugh, when it comes to murder mysteries a serious tone with an occasional laugh is so much more satisfying. This new episode written by Russell Lewis supplied a finely crafted whodunit to fire up the gray matter, keep track of the body count and soak in that glorious Oxford backdrop. The guest cast was really outstanding. Nathaniel Parker is always a joy to watch and Guy Henry, who was an unforgettable Mr. Collins in Lost in Austen, added interest to a minor role as Professor Pelham. While Hathaway was getting smashed and lip worked by that chit Scarlett, Lewis had his own flirtation with Dr. Black’s fellow professor Frances Woodville (Stella Gonet – Mrs Musgrove in Persuasion 2007). She sparkled and he blushed. Too cute! We also got a glimpse of Lewis’ compassionate side when he befriended the murder victim’s cat and named it Monty. Ahh. I also thought it humorous that the writer  played with us in his choice of names and murder weapons. Was it Lady Scarlett in the chapel with a candlestick? I won’t tell.

Watch The Dead of Winter online at the Masterpiece PBS website until October 5th, 2010. Next week’s new episode Dark Matter, guest stars Colonel Fitzwilliam — Anthony Calf, and Sir John Middleton — Robert Hardy!

Scarlett: “I thought for a moment you’d chased after me to declare your undying love.”

Hathaway: “I’m not sure men do that nowadays, do they?”

Scarlett: “Perhaps they should.”

Oh Hathaway. Brush up on your Shakespeare will ya? He makes up for it later on when he recites some lines of poetry to Scarlett by A. E. Housman (1859–1936) from A Shropshire Lad (1896).

INTO my heart on air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE