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Murder on the Bride’s Side is Tracy Kiely’s second murder mystery. I thought her debut novel, Murder at Longbourn, quite charming. Although it was set in modern times, the tie ins to Jane Austen were detailed enough to be satisfying. (In the first book, Aunt Winnie was the proprietor of the Inn at Longbourn, the heroine Elizabeth Parker turned to reading Pride and Prejudice in times of stress, a cat named Lady Catherine prowled the premises, and two friends named Bridget and Colin joined a band of murder suspects for the New Year’s festivities.)

Murder on the Bride’s Side begins where Murder at Longbourn left off. Elizabeth Parker, the heroine who helped to solve the first murder, thereby saving her aunt from being falsely accused, is a fact checker for a local Virginia paper. This explains her eye for details. As the novel opens, guests are assembling to attend Bridget and Colin’s wedding in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth and Peter McGowan are now an item, which must have made Aunt Winnie deliriously happy, for she practically forced Peter’s company onto Elizabeth in Murder at Longbourn.

During her spare time Elizabeth reads Sense and Sensibility, which is quoted quite often at the start of this mystery. These quotes provide a tentative connection to Jane Austen, for, unlike Tracy Kiely’s first novel, the plot of this book has not been so neatly constructed around Jane’s oeuvre, and Tracy stops quoting Sense and Sensibility early on. She quotes other books as well, each one introducing a new chapter, setting up the theme.

As guests arrive for the wedding and assemble for the rehearsal dinner and reception, the reader is introduced to each murder suspect. The victim, Roni, is a suitably nasty individual whose treatment of her husband, Avery, her daughter, Megan, and the world in general is such that murdering her was quite a sensible solution.

Bridget and Colin are married and then the fun happens. As with Tracy Kiely’s first novel, the murder and its denouement are incidental to the development of the characters and their relationship to each other. Kiely’s writing style is breezy and effortless, and she has constructed a tight and entertaining mystery that leads to a satisfying conclusion. This time around the murder is not so easily solved, for she offers a side trail that a careless reader who has missed some important clues might follow.

And now we come to the tricky part of this review, for I truly enjoyed this novel. I live in Richmond, Virginia and was delighted to learn that the novel was set in my city. But the city that Tracy, a Maryland resident describes, is not one that I know. Basic mistakes were made. While going to The Tobacco Company in Shockoe Slip, Tracy has her guests park in a garage near Capitol Hill and then walk several long city blocks to the restaurant. With so many parking garages closer to this dining establishment, why would anyone want to walk through such a featureless, uninteresting part of town? The Governor’s mansion and Virginia state capitol building are not easily seen from the street and the traffic is ghastly. The cobble stone streets of East Cary Street with its trendy boutique shops, restaurants, and bars would have made a much more picturesque backdrop. Plus Tracy describes this slightly touristy, trendy-in-the-1980’s restaurant in detail, while barely mentioning the magnificent interior of the world class, historic register Jefferson Hotel several chapters later.

In this book, Tracy often arranges for people to meet “downtown”. Well, downtown Richmond is a wasteland of office buildings, banks, vacant lots, and parking garages. Major thoroughfares crisscross streets, making it hard for pedestrians to navigate towards the river, for example. The few restaurants that are making it in the financial district tend to be open only for breakfast and lunch. For entertainment and dining, Richmonders say they will meet in a specific section of town: The Fan, Cary Town, the Museum District, Church Hill, the Canal Walk, Belle Isle, Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, Libby and Grove, or the near or far West End. I am being picky, I know, but not once did I get the sense that Tracy’s characters were living and breathing in my city.

Perhaps I quibble too much, for this reviewer from The Richmond Times Dispatch was quite delighted with the book.

I give Murder on the Bride’s Side two out of three Regency fans. Will I read another Elizabeth Parker murder mystery when Tracy Kiely writes her third book? Why, yes, of course. I want to follow Peter and Elizabeth as they deepen their romance against a backdrop of murder most foul. Just not in Richmond.

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Murder at LongbournOnce I began reading Murder at Longbourn, a fast moving mystery written by Tracy Kiely, I discovered with pleasant surprise that I had difficulty putting this debut novel down. I say surprise, for it has been several years since I enjoyed reading a mystery novel. The plot reminded me of an old fashioned Agatha Christie drawing room murder with some humor thrown in. On New Year’s eve, Elizabeth Parker’s eccentric Aunt Winnifred, the proprietor of the Inn at Longbourn and a lover of all things Jane Austen, decides to throw a “How to Host a Murder Party.” Elizabeth, wishing to forget her two-timing boyfriend, has arrived to help her. Aunt Winnie informs Elizabeth almost immediately that she has also invited Peter McGowan to help out. Upon hearing this news, Elizabeth’s heart sinks. At fourteen, Peter had locked her chubby and awkward ten-year-old-self in the basement and mockingly called her Cocoa Puff.  Hating the idea of their remeeting, for Elizabeth is convinced that Peter has not changed one whit, she decides to stay and honor her commitment to Aunt Winnie. Making the best of what is she is sure will become an awkward situation, Elizabeth writes a list of resolutions:

  • 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

But then things go bump in the night and Elizabeth’s well-laid plans for a smooth evening go awry. A wealthy guest is murdered in the middle of a murder mystery game, leaving the actors without a script to work from and the local police scratching their heads. When Elizabeth realizes that poor Aunt Winnie is the most likely suspect, she goes into overdrive to help solve the murder. Peter turns out to be an unlikely ally. In fact, Tracy Kiely had devised a situation in which the hero and heroine at first misunderstand each other. (Quelle surprise!) The heroine must then sort through her ill-conceived preconceptions before COMING to an UNDERSTANDING with the hero. Shades of Pride and Prejudice, which also happens to be Elizabeth Parker’s favorite novel! Throw in a cat named Lady Catherine, two friends called Bridget and Colin (I kid you not), a plot set in New ENGLAND in a small village inhabited by gossipy small village characters similar to the sort found in Meryton, a sprinkling of clues that left this reader pondering and wondering until the very end, and you have a fabulous read.

Tracy Kiely weaves her old-fashioned murder mystery with a modern sensibility and the sort of humorous observations about the human character that I love. Those who have come to appreciate a more forensic approach to murder solving, will be a tad disappointed, but those who love good writing, well-drawn characters, a solid mystery plot that is hard to solve, and Austenesque overtones, will enjoy this book as much as I did. Not that Tracy’s debut novel is entirely without fault, for she introduced a score of characters at the beginning, many of whom were hard to recall only pages later, and after the actors played their roles, they were suddenly dropped from the plot. As the mystery unfolded, Austenesque details and humorous observations came fewer and farther between, and never quite reappeared to my satisfaction. The good news is that Tracy Kiely has been given an opportunity to perfect her craft and hone her considerable writing skills. Next year, the delightful Elizabeth Parker will solve another murder mystery in Tracy’s second novel, Murder on the Bride’s Side.

3 regency fansI give this Austenesque novel three out of three Regency fans.

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Murder at LongbournGentle Reader, Tracy Kiely’s first book, Murder at Longbourn, is set to be released tomorrow, September 1st. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy, who was kind enough to provide these fascinating insights in response to my questions. Her murder mystery is a rollicking fun read in the style of a modern Agatha Christie with Austenesque overtones. I think that Tracy summarizes her book best on her website:

If you are a fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and love classic English mysteries, then you just might enjoy Murder at Longbourn. Set in a picturesque Cape Cod B&B on New Year’s Eve, the story follows Elizabeth Parker, a young woman on the mend from a bad breakup. Instead of a peaceful retreat, she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation and in the company of the nemesis of her youth, Peter McGowan – a man she suspects has matured in chronological years only. As she investigates her fellow guests, some bearing more than a striking resemblance to characters in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth fights to keep her inner poise while she hunts down a killer who keeps killing.

1) Hi Tracy, thank you for agreeing to chat with me. I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying reading your book. Murder at Longbourn, while echoing Jane Austen (and I suspect the cottage industry that has grown up around it) is refreshingly not an Austen sequel, but an original story with Austenesque overtones. How did you conceive of the plot? Can you share with the reader one of your “inside” Jane Austen references? I simply laughed out loud as I encountered them.

The plot for Murder at Longbourn, is something of a mishmash of my favorite forms of entertainment. I grew up reading Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and watching Alfred Hitchcock movies (I am something of an Anglophile, much to the consternation of my Irish Catholic family). I love the twisty, deviously clever plots of Christie, the sublime wit of Austen, and the “average man caught in extraordinary circumstances” themes of Hitchcock. When I began to think of writing my own mystery, I realized it would have to have those elements. Then one day I was watching the news and – I kid you not – there was a story about a woman who killed her husband at a B&B after they attended a Host-A-Murder Dinner. I was off to the races! However, while there are many references to Pride and Prejudice throughout the book, I didn’t want it to be a retelling of Austen’s classic. Instead, it’s a gentle wink at the reader who is familiar with Pride and Prejudice, but one doesn’t necessarily need to be a fan to “get” the book. That said, I had such fun weaving in the Austenesque aspects. I think my favorites are Henry Anderson’s pride in securing a rare first edition of Fordyce’s Sermons for his client and the ill-mannered white Persian cat, aptly named Lady Catherine.

2) This is your debut novel in print. Due to the maturity of your writing style, I suspect this is not your very first attempt at writing. How long have you been writing? How many first attempts lie upon dusty shelves? And has your work been published in other forms before, such as a magazine?

I have wanted to be a mystery writer since I was a kid. I did briefly entertain a dream of being a cartoonist for The New Yorker but even the early cave dwellers would have rejected my sketches. Several years ago, I wrote a mystery titled An Ostentation of Peacocks. It never really went anywhere (a fact I refuse to attribute to its title) and I put it aside. But it was a bit like taking a SAT prep class; you get an idea of what you’re in for. When I felt ready to write again, I decided to start fresh. However, I was able to use some of the research I did for Ostentation in Murder on the Bride’s Side (the second in the series).

3) The book is funny at times. It is so nice to read an Austenesque novel that echoes Jane Austen’s wit. When did you become a Jane Austen fan, and would you describe yourself as an acerbic wit in real life?

I became a fan of Jane Austen in high school when I first picked up Pride and Prejudice and one of the many aspects of it that I loved was the wit. I would categorize my humor as “acerbicous tardious” which, I believe, is the Latin for thinking of zingers ten minutes too late. I think the French have a term for it too, but I prefer the Latin because it is a dead language and no one can make fun of my pronunciation. However, the beauty of writing is that my characters don’t need to respond in real time.

4) I did you a disservice by calling your book Austenesque, for it is a stand alone novel that even non-Jane Austen fans will like. What are your plans for a second novel? Will it be another mystery?

If calling my book Austenesque is a disservice, then hit me again, dear sir! Luckily, St. Martin’s signed me for the first two in the series. The second, Murder on the Bride’s Side, is due out September 2010 and continues Elizabeth’s sleuthing adventures. My goal for each book is to parallel a different work of Austen’s. The first, obviously, was Pride and Prejudice. The second weaves in elements of Sense and Sensibility. Should the gods smile on me, I will be asked for the third, which is tentatively titled Spirit of Murder and parallels Northanger Abbey. In it certain events occur while Elizabeth is staying in a historic house on Nantucket, which lead her to wonder if her imagination is getting the best of her due to a recent re-reading of The Mysteries of Udolpho or if there is a more sinister explanation.

5) Tell us a little about yourself and your family. How do you fit writing into your schedule when you are raising three children who, I presume, are young?

My husband and I have three kids aged 13, 9 and 6. Throw in a puppy, an uppity cat, and a few fish and there’s precious little time for sanity, let alone a set writing schedule. So I do it when I can: while the kids are brushing their teeth, while the dog is chasing the cat through the dining room, while my youngest is painting his room with crayon. For me, writing is something I can’t not do. Jasper Fforde put it best when he said “Writers write because they can’t stop. They scribble notes in books, write poetry, jot down good snippets of dialogue and generally exist in their own little world.”

Thank you for your wonderful insights, Tracy. I wish you the best of luck as your book hits the stores. You can read my review at this link.  Readers may order copies here,  and enter Tracy’s website at this link.

Tracy KielyAbout the Author: Tracy Kiely graduated from Trinity College in 1990 with a degree in English. This accomplishment, however, merely seemed to prompt most job interviewers to ask “how fast can you type?” Her standard answer of “not so fast” usually put an end to futher questions.

She was eventually hired by the American Urological Association (AUA), who were kind enough to overlook the whole typing thing, mainly because they knew just what kind of stuff she’d be typing. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know. After several years, Tracy left the AUA taking with her a trove of anecdotal stories that would eventually result in her banishment from polite society.

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Murder at LongbournMurder at Longbourn will be available in book stores on September 1. My review for Tracy Kiely’s debut novel will be up next week.

Meanwhile, you can explore the book at the publisher’s site and Tracy Kiely’s website, and see this short video clip.

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