The so called ‘cozy mystery’ genre has an unfortunate tendency to lump together the likes of Dorothy Sayers with Agatha Raisin. While Lord Peter may not wrestle with the depressing issues of today’s more edgy thrillers (typified by Nordic Noir), Sayers’ detective fiction was not mere fluff. Her hero, Lord Peter, struggles with PTSD and guilt that stemmed from knowing his “hobby” often results in a hanging. Even the iconic ‘cozy mystery writer’, Agatha Christie, delved into some surprisingly serious issues. I won’t give away too much, but Christie’s Crooked House confronts an issue that is still shocking even in today’s world, even more so nestled in a past age that has been overly romanticized. Personally, I like to separate the ‘cozy mystery’ genre into two sub categories. Firstly, we have ‘pure-fluff’, typified by the slightly more cliched and ridiculous examples of the genre; i.e. M.C. Beaton, any series that features a cat, Murdoch Mysteries. Secondly, we have the ‘Sayers school of writing’, elegant in execution and intelligently plotted, it never assumes that an abundance of depression and gore is necessary to be truly witty. Examples, apart from Sayers herself, would be Foyle’s War, Sherlock Holmes (the originals), and Ashley Weaver’s debut novel, Murder at the Brightwell.
Summary from cover:
Glamorous Amory Ames might be wealthy but she is unhappily married to notorious playboy, Milo, and she willingly accepts her former fiance Gil Trent’s plea for help in preventing his sister Emmeline from meeting a similar matrimonial fate.
Amory and Gil set off for The Brightwell, a sprawling seaside hotel in Devon, where Emmeline and her intended, the disreputable and impeccably groomed Rupert Howe, are holidaying along with a sprinkling of other rich and sumptuously-dressed guests.
Champagne flows but the sparkle soon fades as a dark and unresolved history between Gil and Rupert surfaces. After a late night quarrel the luxurious hotel is one guest fewer by morning. When Gil is arrested for murder, amory is determined to defend his innocence. But if she’s right, the killer is still in their midst – can she prove it before she, too, becomes a victim?
Extravagance, scoundrels and red herrings abound as Amory draws closer to the truth.
I grabbed Murder at the Brightwell off the new reads shelf at my library because of its undeniably attractive cover, but my expectations were low. I find few writers up to the challenge of penning a novel set in Britain during the 1930’s. They usually over-do the slang (to many wots!), or spend too much time ramming the ‘vintageness’ of their book down readers throats, not to mention, my always high standards for mystery novels. I was surprised and delighted to find a new favourite for my bookshelf.. From the first page, you realize that you are in the hands of a master storyteller who is completely at ease with her material. There is nothing ‘debut’ about MATB. Weaver captures the mood of high society in the 30’s perfectly. There were moments of banter and situation comedy that brought to mind classics like My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man, but these flowed naturally within the context of the story and never once did I feel that a scene had been contrived merely to set the mood.
There is also no hesitation in the plotting of this delightful seaside romp, the mystery tripping along at a rapid pace, with surprising yet believable twists.
But of course, the true heart of any detective novel is the detective. Amory Ames is charming, intelligent, and sympathetic. Her subtle sense of humour showing itself in her repartee with the other characters, one in particular though I won’t say who lest I spoil it for you ;). Amory is also the center of the most believable love triangle I have read in ages. She is not being wishy washy (looking at you YA Fiction), but facing a realistic situation that is sadly all too common in real life.
Quote of note: Mrs. Roland was a wealthy widow who flittered about society like a flamboyant overly-chirpy bird. She had been widowed three times, accumulating successively more wealth as each husband faded beneath her bright and tiresome exuberance. I was inclined to believe her husbands had gone to the grave for the sheer peace of it.
In short, Murder at the Brightwell is a book that can be judged by its very elegant and classy cover. Five out of five stars!!!