November 2009

A modern cozy with an Austen twist

By Tracy Kiely
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Debut novelist Tracy Kiely has come up with the smashing idea of marrying Jane Austen’s wit and social acuity to the form of the modern cozy mystery and gotten excellent results in Murder at Longbourn, which has all the signs of beginning a fine new series. Kiely uses some Austen plot lines, particularly from Pride and Prejudice, and gives her own 21st century take on many of Austen’s favorite social situations (the poor cousin dependent on a wealthier one is particularly notable).

The appropriately named Elizabeth Parker has just broken up with her boyfriend, a man “obsessed with argyle,” and is desperate to find something entertaining to do on New Year’s Eve, something that won’t make her feel so alone. Fortunately, her favorite relative, her Aunt Winnie, is opening a Cape Cod B&B that night and is celebrating the holiday with a planned murder party. Despite the presence of Peter McGowan, the bane of her childhood, Elizabeth decides this is just the way to start off her New Year.

Things, of course, do not go strictly as planned: local, soon-shown-to-be-unpopular, wealthy developer Gerald Ramsey is found shot. Aunt Winnie is a prime suspect since Ramsey was determined to get the property she bought for her B&B. Elizabeth determines to investigate the crime just in case the police decide they have the guilty party in Aunt Winnie. Complicating matters is her interest in the handsome Englishman staying at the B&B. Is he the lover of the dead man’s wife or is he sincerely interested in Elizabeth? And what is Peter, who persists in calling Elizabeth by her childhood nickname of Cocoa Puff, up to?

Elizabeth, much like Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, is not always as wise as she thinks she is, but she can be great company. She is often amusingly self-deprecating. At one point she compares her reflection to the appearance of the dead man’s daughter, who is looking particularly good.  The morning after an evening when she’s had far more to drink than normal (in her defense, she had a really awful day), she notes she looks “anything but dewy fresh.” She continues, “In fact, I looked like something that sucked the life out of dewy fresh things.”

In the next installation, this reader hopes that Elizabeth’s newly engaged friend and roommate, Bridget, will get more time on the page. Elizabeth’s known her since childhood and remembers that “her dolls were always clad like some bizarre cross of Joan Collins and Liberace.” Peter does not yet feel fully formed as a character, at least in comparison to Elizabeth, but that’s likely to be addressed in future books, as well.

Joanne Collings cozies up with a good book in Washington, D.C.

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Murder at Longbourn

Murder at Longbourn

By Tracy Kiely
ISBN 9780312537562

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