It’s summer in 1930s England. And there’s been a Murder at the Brightwell.
In Ashley Weaver’s enjoyable debut mystery, a well-to-do group of friends has gathered for a party at the Brightwell Hotel on England’s seaside. Among the guests is the lovely Amory Ames, who’s not attending with her husband, Milo, but instead is the guest of her former fiancé, Gil Trent. Amory’s husband of several years has been playboy-ing across Europe on his own, so she feels justified in agreeing to help the stalwart Gil, who’s at the gathering to try and talk his sister, Emmeline, out of marrying the unsavory Rupert Howe, a man of questionable repute.
Amory gets her first glimpse of the assembled party on the first evening, as the characters are introduced one by one in tried-and-true cozy fashion. Also true to form, each engenders just the tiniest bit of suspicion in readers’ minds. It’s not long before the prospective groom is found dead at the bottom of a cliff terrace. Murder most foul is the verdict delivered by the resolute Detective Inspector Jones of England’s CID, who’s on the spot and missing nothing.
Gil’s obvious dislike of the victim soon makes him suspect number one, and from here on, Murder at the Brightwell assumes all the trappings of a Golden Age mystery par excellence, complete with suspects and subplots galore, the obligatory seaside scenery and a whole school of red herrings. Undaunted, heroine Amory sorts it all out, seeking clues in each conversation and locating nuanced and suspicious gestures around every corner.
Just as intriguing as the murder and its consequences is a major side trip into Amory’s love life—or lack thereof. Weaver expertly exploits the “which one does she love?” angle, creating a tasty side story for mystery readers who like their murder laced with a little romance. Milo, who unaccountably shows up at the party, is to all intents a disinterested husband who doesn’t mind a bit of running around without his wife. But he seems brisk, even a bit jealous, when confronting his potential rival, the trusty Gil, who has never lost interest in his former fiancée. Weaver creates great romantic tension, but despite Amory’s protestations to the contrary, it doesn’t take a master sleuth to discover the direction in which this heroine’s affections lie.