Giveaway Winner Announced for Death Sits Down to Dinner

Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen x 200It’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway of one hardcover copy of Death Sits Down to Dinner, by Tessa Arlen. The lucky winner was drawn at random and is:

  • Paige B., who left a comment on March 30, 2016.

Congratulations Paige! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by April 13, 2016, or you will forfeit your prize! Shipment is to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, to author Tessa Arlen for her great interview and to her publisher Minotaur Books for the giveaway copy.

Cover image courtesy of Minotaur Books © 2016, text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2016, Austenprose.com

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery, by Tessa Arlen – A Review

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen 2015 x 200For those who are in the doldrums after last week’s final episode of season five of Downton Abbey and in need of another English country manor house upstairs/downstairs story, Tessa Arlen’s debut novel could fit the bill. Set at the fictional estate of Iyntwood in the summer of 1913, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a murder mystery in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse. Here is a brief preview and review for your consideration:

DESCRIPTION (from the publisher)

Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.

Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.

In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life–a superb treat for those who love British novels.

Continue reading

A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6), by Tasha Alexander – A Review

Crimson Warning, by Alexandra Tudor (2011)Guest review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Jane Austen spoiled us.  She wrote novels about amazing women who oftentimes bucked society’s norms.  Nowadays, it’s difficult to find heroines like Elizabeth Bennet that have us rooting for them page after page.  Luckily, author Tasha Alexander decided to gift the world with a tenacious woman Austen herself would be proud of: Lady Emily Hargreaves.  In A Crimson Warning, the sixth novel in the Lady Emily mystery series, we are again thrown into a mystery that seems to have no clear ending.  It is up to Lady Emily’s wit and cunning to save the day and keep the forces of evil at bay for yet another day.

Lady Emily has been busy.  From barely escaping with her life in Constantinople and Normandy, she hopes to finally wind things down and come home to Mayfair and enjoy the normal comforts of being happily married and finally settled.  For a while, she actually accomplishes this.  Lady Emily even gets to join the Women’s Liberal Federation and work towards obtaining the right to vote for women.  Unfortunately, this ideal world is shattered in A Crimson Warning, when Lady Emily learns that an unknown person has been splashing red paint onto the fronts of many of the wealthier homes in London.  These are no ordinary homes, however, as their owners possess secrets that are potentially damaging and are hidden for one reason or another.  Soon enough, all of the upper class in London fear that they too could be the target of this criminal, and that he or she may be involved in more sinister acts than simply painting the front of a home with a red slash.  Can Lady Emily and Colin find this evil individual before it is too late and people start disappearing?  What are the secrets that these wealthy Londoners go to such lengths to protect?

Less than a month ago I had never heard of the Lady Emily series.  Shame on me!  I’ve now read all six novels in the series and am eagerly awaiting Death in the Floating City, the seventh in the series, which is scheduled for release this October.  When I reviewed the first Lady Emily novel, And Only To Deceive, my thoughts on Alexander’s writing was that it was a hybrid between Jane Austen and Agatha Christie.  Six novels later, those feelings remain unchanged.  Alexander is an amazing mystery writer.  I still had no idea whodunit 40 pages from the end.  Sure, I had my guesses regarding the culprit, but her writing is so precise and clean that it is not until the antagonist is finally revealed that you realize all the clues that were left for you to follow.

As I said above, Lady Emily is a woman that Austen herself would be proud of.  She completely disregards what society expects of women.  She refuses to be an idle wife, staying home with nothing to do but plan balls and dinners and make social calls.  Instead, she uses her mind to explore literature, art, and languages, much to the delight of her husband, Colin.  Colin works as an agent for the crown and is fully supportive of her “crimes against society”.  In A Crimson Warning we get to see a more political side of Emily, as she gets involved with the Women’s Liberal Federation.  It’s through all of her side interests (i.e art, literature) that we learn about that time period.  Alexander uses Emily’s “hobbies” to inform us about what was going on back then.  It’s obviously meticulously researched and has oftentimes led me to want to read and research certain time periods further.

I have to say of all six novels I think that A Crimson Warning is my favorite to date.  We really get a sense of Alexander’s witty and playful side here.  Her scavenger hunt through the British Museum and whiskey drinking scene between Emily and her good friend Jeremy were the best parts of the novel in my opinion.  Although we don’t normally see this side of Alexander, I’m really glad that we got to in this novel.  It added an extra touch to an already wonderful novel that I heartily recommend to everyone.  Fast paced and full of wit and terrifying danger, A Crimson Warning (and the entire Lady Emily series) is not one you want to miss.  Add it to your to-read pile as soon as possible, you won’t be disappointed.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6), by Tasha Alexander
St. Martin’s Press (2011)
Hardcover (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0312661755

Kimberly Denny-Ryderis the owner/moderator of Reflections of a Book Addict, a book blog dedicated to following her journey of reading 100 books a year, while attempting to keep a life! When not reading, Kim can be found volunteering as the co-chair of a 24hr cancer awareness event, as well as an active member of Quinnipiac University’s alumni association.  When not reading or volunteering, Kim can be found at her full-time job working in vehicle funding. She lives with her husband Todd and two cats, Belle and Sebastian, in Connecticut.

© 2007 – 2012 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Stillroom Maid, by Stephanie Barron (2000)Touring the Derbyshire countryside in the summer of 1806, Jane Austen, her mother, sister Cassandra and cousin Rev. Edward Cooper are staying at the Rutland Arms in Bakewell, in the Peak District. While on a day excursion out into the country with Mr. Cooper and his friend Mr. Hemming, the gentleman enjoy angling along the River Wye and Jane pursues her passion for a country walk, shortly ending in a disturbing discovery. A young gentleman is found “foully and cruelly” murdered on a crag near Millers Dale with a bullet in his head, his entrails torn from his body and his tongue cut out. Jane and Mr. Cooper are tourists to the area and the victim is unknown to them. Mr. Hemming, a local solicitor also claims not to recognize the young man. All three are deeply disturbed by the grisly discovery, but Mr. Hemming strangely acts out of character insisting that the body be transported a distance to Buxton and not to Bakewell the town under proper jurisdiction to the local Justice of the Peace and Coroner. After some uneasy discussion, Mr. Hemming reluctantly concedes to allow the corpse to be taken Bakewell, but Jane cannot help but notice that he is acting like a man burdened with guilt.

The local surgeon Mr. Tivey is summoned from his blacksmith duties and examines the deceased. He recognizes the victim immediately, suspecting some kind of evil mischief afoot. The young gentleman is no gentleman, he is a lady, one Tess Arnold, the stillroom maid of Penfolds Hall, the country estate of Mr. Charles Danford near Tideswell, only one mile north of where the body was discovered. Tivey is quick to spread the shocking details among the villagers of the vicious extent of her wounds. He claims it is a ritual killing related to an act of revenge conducted by the Freemasons when one of their own is betrayed. The local Justice of the Peace, Sir James Villiers, arrives and interviews Jane and her cousin Mr. Cooper. The Coroner’s Inquest will be called in three days. Run by the disgruntled Mr. Tivey who has been very liberal with his derogatory opinions of the murder by the Freemasons after they rejected him as a member. The “evil weight of a jealous tongue” has turned the villagers into an angry mob who want justice. Sir James entreats Jane to remain in town and relay her story of discovering the mutilated corpse.

At the Coroner’s Inquest, the parties connected to the young victim Tess Arnold are called to be questioned. Jane and her cousin relay their story, but oddly, the third witness in the discovery, Mr. Hemming, does not appear when called. We learn more about the victim and her duties as stillroom maid, and, her disreputable character. Her former employer Charles Danforth, who is in mourning the recent death of his wife and child, recognizes the clothing found on the corpse as his own, but cannot explain how she had possession of them. His personal connection to the victim is scrutinized by the coroner and he storms out of the proceedings. The Housekeeper is questioned and reveals that Tess had been dismissed on the same day as her death. Feigning heart trouble, or is it purposeful swooning, the proceedings for the day are stopped to assist the housekeeper. As the inquest disperses, Sir James invites Jane for nucheon to discuss her opinions on the case and an old friend unexpectantly arrives.

At that moment, the rustling in the passage increased and the parlour door was thrust open. I turned, gazed, and rose immediately from my chair. A spare, tall figure, exquisitely dressed in the garb of a gentleman, was caught in a shaft of sunlight. He lifted his hat from his silver hair and bowed low over my hand

“It is a pleasure to see you again, Miss Austen. We have not met this age.”

Nor had we. But I must confess that the gentleman had lately been much in my thoughts.

“Lord Harold,” I replied a trifle unsteadily. “The honour is entirely mine.” Page 86

What a grand entrance for the Gentleman Rogue! Bathed in sunlight like a God? LOL! What? No twinkling stars in his eyes and blinding white teeth?

Jane and the Stillroom Maid is the fifth Jane Austen mystery, and for those unfamiliar with this series, the narrative is from a fictional diary written by Jane Austen and discovered in 1992 in a Georgian manor house near Baltimore. Inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s life, historical fact and cultural detail, each of the novels has Jane Austen using her keen observational skills of human nature as a sleuth in a murder mystery.

This narrative is set in Pemberley country, that palatial country estate of Mr. Darcy, the hero of Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice. Well, we don’t really know where in the county of Derbyshire the fictional Pemberley estate is, but we do have some clues from Austen that it was near Bakewell, where Jane and her family are staying in his story. It has long been suspected that Jane Austen modeled Pemberley after the famous Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and the Cavendish family since 1549. It lies only three and a half miles from Bakewell. The fact that Lord Harold is a guest at Chatsworth and takes Jane there as his guest to be served ratafia, route cakes and rumors of indiscretions, that may of lead to murder, is a delicious coincidence. It is delightful to imagine that Jane Austen could have toured the Peak District in the summer of 1806 and visited Chatsworth and modeled her Pemberley after it.

Each of the chapters is prefaced by a recipe from the Stillroom Book of the victim Tess Arnold. Stillroom maids were a combination of herbalist, apothecary and food preserver on large estates. Because of their skill at curatives and elixirs, stillroom maids were often accused of being witches, even in Jane’s time during the early 1800’s. Some of the recipes are disturbing to modern sensibilities: adding brains of four cock sparrows or mourning doves into a fruit tart to give someone courage, ew! But the recipes added to the charm of the era and brought home how far we have evolved with modern medicine and education.

The mystery was intriguing, but I think I figured out whodunit too soon. It did not spoil one moment of my enjoyment. Barron excels at historical detail, early 19th-century language and fabulous characterization. Her portrayal of Jane Austen is so natural and engaging that I lose myself in the character and forget that this is just fiction. Jane’s friendship with Lord Harold is exciting and tragic. I want them to be a couple, but realize that his being the second son of a duke and she an impoverished gentleman’s daughter, that it cannot happen. I also enjoy finding allusions to Jane Austen’s own characters in Barron’s own and laughed-out-loud at her interpretation of Mr. Edward Cooper, Rector of Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire, Jane’s first cousin, supercilious singing toad and Mr. Collins knock-off. His reaction when being interrupted while fishing by Jane’s announcement of a murder is hilarious:

“A corpse?” Mr. Cooper exclaimed, with a look of consternation. “Not again, Jane! However shall we explain this to my aunt?” page 31

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2000)
Mass market paperback (336) pages
ISBN:  978-0553578379

This is my fifth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Stillroom Maid to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, May 26, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Giveaway winner announced for Jane and the Genius of the Place

Jane and the Genius of the Place, by Stephanie Barron (1999)18 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Genius of the Place, by Stephanie Barron. The winner drawn at random is Penelope who left a comment on April 26th.

Congratulations Penelope! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by May 4th, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. We are reading all eleven novels in this great Austen inspired mystery series this year. The challenge is open until July 1st, 2011, so please check out the details and sign up today!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Jane and the Genius of the Place: Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Genius of the Place: Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron (1999)In the summer of 1805, we find Jane Austen visiting her wealthy brother Edward and his large family at their palatial country estate Godmersham Park in Kent, enjoying the comforts of living above “vulgar economy,” and the privileges of ease and splendor. Her father Rev. Austen had passed away the following January, displacing herself, her sister Cassandra and their mother from their rented residence in Bath. This was the beginning of their wilderness years, when the Austen women would shuffle about from relative to relative, homeless genteel vagabonds, dependent on the generosity of their families for a roof over their heads. While Jane visits in Kent, her sister Cassandra resides nearby at Goodnestone with Mrs. Bridges, the mother of Edward’s wife Elizabeth, and Mrs. Austen is in Hampshire.

Jane wastes no times in enjoying their opulent society with an outing to the Canterbury Races to picnic on the green and watch her brother Henry’s latest folly with the Sporting Set, his  magnificent race horse Commodore, who is set to take his paces against the local favorites. Among the festivities, it is hard not to notice a beautiful young woman in a scarlet riding costume siting in a phaeton near their own carriage. As she lashes out injuring a young man with her driving whip, Jane is shocked by her wild behavior. Her sister-in-law Elizabeth Austen explains that she is the notorious Francoise Lamartine Grey, the spirited young wife of a wealthy local banker who owns the grand neighboring estate The Larches. Besides being a Frenchwomen in England during the height of the “Great Terror,” when many feared Bonaparte’s invasion of the English coast, she is disliked by everyone in the neighborhood because of scandalous behavior. While Henry’s horse loses the race, Mrs. Grey loses her life.

Brutally strangled by her hair ribbon and striped of her red riding costume, she is found in the carriage of her former lover Denys Collingworth, a man of “slim means, illiberal temper and general disfavor of the whole neighborhood.” As the local Justice of the Peace, Edward Austen steps forward and takes command of the investigation, aided by the observant eyes of his sister Jane, his wife Elizabeth and their governess Anne Sharpe, they are able to recount the events of the day involving Mrs. Grey’s movements. But something is awry. How could she lie dead in the carriage and then later be seen on horseback recklessly jumping the racecourse rail, chasing after the galloping horses, collecting the winners cup, and then promptly departing in her phaeton? All eyes are on Collingworth who feigns absence corroborated by a witness. He points the finger at family friend Captain Woodford and Elizabeth Austen’s brother Rev. Edward Bridges who are both deeply in debt to Mrs. Grey. Later we learn that her husband does not mourn Francoise’s death, nor does he attend her funeral. As the suspects add up, Edward and Jane are uncertain that what appears to be a lovers quarrel gone terribly wrong, in fact involves international espionage and Bonaparte far reaching ambitions.

Jane and the Genius of the Place, is the fourth Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron, the very popular series involving British novelist Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth paralleling actual events from her own life. It is told in a first person narrative from Jane’s perspective edited from her personal journals discovered by the author in an outbuilding on an ancient Maryland estate. They blend the factual and the fictional, incorporating known events and facts from Austen’s letters, history, culture and politics with a clever mystery story. This is my fourth of the series and I found it fascinating. The storyline introduces many of the social pursuits that a Regency gentleman would aspire to: horse racing, “improvement of the estate,” cultivation of the manor house and family. In addition to the return of Jane’s favorite brother Henry Austen, we are introduced to her elder brother Edward, his wife Elizabeth, daughter Fanny and the brood of their other eight children. Governess to the two daughters is Anne Sharpe, who Jane will develop a lifelong friendship with. Barron did superb job with Elizabeth “Lizzy” Austen as companion and sounding board to Jane and the investigation. Elegant, intelligent and composed, Lizzy is the kind of mother, sister-in-law or friend that we all should have in our lives, but rarely do. It is understandable how her death in 1808 was such a shock to Jane and her family.

I loved the introduction of the Austen’s governess Anne Sharpe, who we know little about other than a few surviving letters, and that Jane valued her friendship enough to give her a presentation copy of Emma when it was published in 1815. In this story she has a flirtation of such with landscape designer Julian Southey, which I wish had been played out more. The aesthetic movement of the “improvement of the estate” is woven into the plot in detail, and as a landscape designer myself for many years, I appreciated the beautiful descriptions of the transformation of English countryside into the picturesque visions made popular by designers Humphrey Repton and Capability Brown.

Even though Jane Austen is criticized for not broaching politics in her novels, she did talk about them in her letters and followed the Napoleonic Wars through her two brothers in the Royal Naval. Politics, international espionage and French spies factor heavily into this novel in a clever way. In addition, with the introduction of new characters I did not miss the lack of Cassandra Austen, who seems to be a killjoy in the series, nor Mrs. Austen who is a bit of a downer for “our” Jane. Even thought the mystery drove the plot, I found myself guessing whodunit early on. It really didn’t matter in the least. The writing is so entrancing, the descriptions so mesmerizing and the characters so enjoyable, that nothing was wanting – well, except the shortage of Lord Harold Trowbridge, Rogue, Flirt and personal Infatuation. I patiently await his return.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Genius of the Place: Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2000)
Mass market paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0553578393

This is my fourth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Genius of the Place to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, April 28, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Inspector Lewis: The Quality of Mercy on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Quality of Mercy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Masterpiece Mystery will air another encore episode of Inspector Lewis from season II, The Quality of Mercy on Sunday, August 15th. The new season begins on August 29th with Counter Culture Blues guest starring Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous), a great British comedian who has yet to disappoint. Her recent performance in Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side was hilarious.

This week’s episode is immersed in Shakespearean literary references as a group of Oxford students produce The Merchant of Venice, containing some of the Bard’s most memorable lines:  “If you prick us do we not bleed”, “But love is blind, and lovers cannot see.”,  and “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath…”, which the story draws its title from. As with most Inspector Lewis scripts there is usually one major plot line and two minor ones interlaced. In this instance themes and characters in the play parallel real life involving DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and his partner DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) in a double murder motivated by ambition, deceit and revenge.

In the play, Jewish moneylender Shylock is famous for demanding a pound of flesh as collateral for a loan. Ironically, Richard Scott (Daniel Sharman) the talented young actor portraying him is the one borrowing from his fellow thespians to pay for his expensive life-style. When he is found backstage after the second act with a prop knife in his chest, none of the students seem upset or grieved by his death except Isabel Dawson (Abby Ford – Tipping the Velvet) who is portraying Portia in the play. A note found by the body quotes from Hamlet: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

The overly ambitious director Emma Golding (Daisy Lewis) is determined that the show must go on. Important agents and reviewers will be in attendance and this play is her ticket out of Oxford and into professional theater. One of the group Philip Beaumont (Bryan Dick – Bleak House), an Oxford dropout looks upon his ensemble of friends and his former college with cynical contempt, while the handsome and egotistical Barham Rezvani (Tariq Jordan) who plays Antonio loathed Scott, but loaned him money never expecting repayment. His Iranian family’s wealth bought him access to Oxford and he uses the same attitude to make connections.

As Lewis and Hathaway begin interviewing the students they quickly learn that Scott not only owed money to the male cast members, he also slept  with many of the female cast. All of the students seem to be self-centered and on the make, stepping over each other to work the system and get ahead. Could this be a crime of jealousy, passion or revenge? As the investigation progresses, there appears to be many possible motives and suspects to consider in the cast and audience – namely, a suspicious out-of-town theater-goer Simon Monkford (Ronan Vibert – The Scarlet Pimpernel) who is eager to offer an alibi, two feuding Professors Denise Gregson (Maureen Beattie – Bramwell) and her ex-husband James Alderson (Nicholas Pritchard – Place of Execution), and Joe Myers (Geoff Breton- Diary of Anne Frank) a young man who may have killed his rival to take over his part.

Later, Lewis and Hathaway are called to a local luxury hotel where the assistant manager Graham Wilkinson (Shaughan Seymour – Wuthering Heights) reveals that they may have been victims of an insurance scam. A guest had left his luggage with the front desk to retrieve later and while he was away, a woman arrived to pick it up at his request. When he returned to claim it, he was furious to discover his luggage had been given to his non-existent wife, in-turn reporting it to the police. The man was the very same theatre-goer that Hathaway had interviewed that day, Simon Munkford. The coincidence interests Hathaway and he investigates the man’s past, discovering a long history as a con-man with a five-year gap while he lived in Canada. When Hathaway interviews his sister Christine Harper (Annabelle Dowler – The Six Wives of Henry VIII) she reveals that he left England after killing a woman in hit and run in London five years prior.

The next day a freelance journalist Amanda Castello (Shereen Martineau) arrives to review the play, but finds a much more intriguing story in the murder, reporting it to a national scandal rag. In an interview with Lewis she reveals that Scott was suspected in the theft of playwright Phil Beaumont’s laptop earlier that year. Lewis is suspicious of Scott’s motive. What was on the laptop that was worth stealing for, and what does Amanda gain by sharing this?  Shortly after, yet another death connected to the troupe turns the investigation into a double murder, coupled with Hathaway’s pursuit of Simon Munkford’s past life of crime reveals a shocking connection to his boss that he is hesitant to immediately reveal – sure that it will test the quality of mercy.

On first viewing, this multilayered story by Alan Plater is both intriguing and perplexing. The large cast did not make matters easy either. There was a lot of detail packed into ninety minutes that would have been better served as a two hour movie. The themes of ambition, money and mercy where nicely interwoven throughout the three plots, which I have omitted full descriptions of to avert spoilers. There is a twist at the end that Hathaway discovers that clever viewers will put together before it is revealed, but is none-the-less daunting for him to inform his boss of and in turn for Lewis to hear. It leads to a great scene between them involving trust, respect and a lot of yelling.

The guest casting was adequate, but not exemplary. Understandable in some respect because of the young cast members, but the more mature roles that should have been filed with a bit more of the “spurious glamour” that Hathaway jokes about to his boss in regard to his non-alcoholic tonic water would have kicked it up a notch. Director Bille Eltringham chose instead to make this an ensemble piece like the play that it was mirroring.  Happily, our cerebral Sergeant got to show off his Cambridge education by identifying  Shakespearean quotes from multiple plays from total recall. He was also given the best line in the script when on a late night phone call to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police  he was questioned if they (the police force) ever slept? “No we never sleep. We always get our man, or except when it’s a woman, or an occasional transsexual.” If you missed the inside joke, watch the episode Life Born of Fire.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

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

Masterpiece Mystery: Cat Among Pigeons – A Review

Image from Hercule Poirot: A Cat Among Pigeons © 2009 MASTERPIECEAgatha Christie mystery fans were dancing on tabletops across America tonight, when David Suchet returned as their favorite fastidious Belgian super sleuth Hercule Poirot, in Masterpiece Mystery’s opening episode of Six By Agatha Hercule Poirot: Cat Among Pigeons on PBS. It was more than worth the wait for this long time Masterpiece Mystery fan. What an elegantly produced production it was; superb British casting, classy costumes, period locations, masterful direction and an excellent adaptation of Christie’s classic 1959 novel,  all culminating into giant culture rush for this Anglophile/mystery lover. Swoon!

As the music started with the opening credits, I smiled in recognition of how much the Harry Potter movies have premeated into our culture. Here is a scene of children arriving for school term and the music is so similar to the whimsical children’s choral piece that opens the Harry Potter movies that I laughed out loud and thought the producer a cheeky monkey for slipping in that subliminal message! I wondered what other things they might borrow to make Hercule Poirot into Harry Potter! Anyway, our super sleutBook cover of A Cat Among Pigeons (1959)h has been invited to Meadowbank Girls School by his friend the headmistress Miss Bulstrode, played by Harriet Walter, who Austenites will remember portrayed Fanny Dashwood in the 1996 movie adaptation Sense and Sensibility. The progressive Miss Bulstrode has built up the school’s reputation, but now would like to retire. Doubtful that her co-founder Miss Chadwick (Susan Wooldrige) will be able to take over, she asks Poirot’s for his expert advice at character analysis to help select her replacement. No sooner than he has arrived the physical ed teacher Miss Springer (Elizabeth Berrington) is killed violently with a javelin through the heart in the school gymnasium sending the young ladies, including Princess Shaista (Amara Karan) sequestered there after a revolution in her country, into a panic of concern. She reveals to Inspector Kelsey (Anton Lesser) and Poirot that she is certain that she will be killed next. The first suspects are the new staff members at the school, a gardener Adam Goodman (Adam Croasdell), the secretary Miss Rich (Claire Skinner who was Fanny Dashwood in the 2008 Sense and Sensibility) and a French teacher Mlle Blanche (Miranda Raison).

Image from Hercule Poirot: A Cat Among Pigeons: Harriet Walter and David Suchet © 2009 MASTERPIECE

Another teacher is killed, sending the parents and the board of governors into a frenzy. Poirot suspects that there is a connection between the murders and Princess Shaista. One clever student Julia Upjohn (Lois Edmett) aides in the discovery of a valuable treasure connected to the Princess hidden in a tennis racket smuggled out of her country after the revolution. Could this be the motive for the murders? When Princess Shaista is kidnapped, Miss Bulstrode and Miss Chadwick watch their students pulled out of school by panicked parents, and years of hard work and the school’s reputation erode away. Poirot suspects everyone, but reveals little until his signature final roundup of suspects into the drawing room as he deconstructs his logic and reveals the killer. He had me guessing to the last.

Image from Hercule Poirot: A Cat Among Pigeons: Georgia Cornick © 2009 MASTERPIECE

One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching these British productions for me is the face hunt, as I sleuth out actors from their previous roles on Masterpiece or movie roles. And so the mystery becomes an inner mystery of me – hopefully all resolved by the end of the production. In Cat Among Pigeons there were some challenging faces to match to previous roles; one in particular who kept my “grey matter” churning until the very end. Like the great super sleuth Hercule Poirot, it took me ninety minutes to solve my own mystery – that Miss Chadwick, the deputy headmisstress of Meadowbank School was in fact Miss Daphne Manners from the 1984 Masterpiece Theater production of The Jewel in the Crown. No small coincidence that both roles were the axis of each story.

Masterpiece Mystery continues through July 26. Next week, another Hercule Poirot mystery, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, followed by four new Miss Marple episodes staring Julia McKenzie. Oh my. Where are my smelling salts?

Images courtesy © 2009 MASTERPIECE

Mansfield Park Sequels: The Matters at Mansfield: Day 15 Give-away

THE SEQUELS 

What happens when you mix the classic novelist Jane Austen with mystery writer Anne Perry? Author Carrie Bebris’s delightfully funny and fresh Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery Series. Avid readers of Ms. Bebris will be happy to learn that the fourth book in the series, The Matters at Mansfield: Or the Crawford Affair will be available on September 2nd. for their continued amusement and delight. 

In the previous novels in this series; Pride and Prescience: Or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged, Suspense and Sensibility or, First Impressions Revisited, and North By Northanger, or The Shades of Pemberley, we follow Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy after their marriage as they visit their friends from the different Jane Austen novels and sleuth out murder and mystery throughout Regency England. I have not been able to acquire an advance copy of this novel to comment on it thoroughly, and it is a bit too soon for reviews to be about online, but here are some excellent reviews on the author’s previous title North by Northanger (which won the Daphne du Maurier Award in 2007) to give you an idea of her style and renown. 

“Bebris provides another feast for Janeites in . . . this well-told tale.” Publishers Weekly 

“Bebris captures Austen’s style and the Regency period perfectly, drawing her characters with a sure hand.” Library Journal 

“A new Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery is always cause for celebration in this household —  and the latest adventure featuring the amatuer sleuths is well up to Carrie Bebris’ usual high standard. . . . A terrific read: I devoured it in a single sitting.” Jane Austen’s Regency World 

“An utter delight . . . every aspect is pitch-perfect.” — Romantic Times Book Club (Top Pick) 

“The writing is crisp, dryly humorous, and consistent with Austen’s style. This book is the best of the three mysteries so far. It is tightly and credibly constructed down to the last detail, heavy on danger and intrigue, historically accurate, and engaging.” VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) 

Further reading 

  • Review of The Matters at Mansfield: or The Crawford Affair at Publishers Weekly
  • Author Carrie Bebris’s website
  • Read an excerpt of The Matters at Mansfield: or The Crawford Affair 

Mansfield Park Madness – Day 15 Give-away

Matters at Mansfield: or The Crawford Affair 

Part of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, by Carrie Bebris. Pride and Prejudice’s characters of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy going sleuthing in this detective mystery spinoff. Hardcover, 288 page, ISBN 978-0765318473 

Upcoming posts 
Only two days left to qualify for the many great give-aways
Winners announced August 31
Day 16 – Aug 30          MP: What People Are Saying
Day 17 – Aug 31          MP Madness Roundup & Conclusion