Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver is a debut traditional murder mystery set in a 1932 British seaside resort featuring amateur sleuth Amory Ames (available October 14, 2014).
You won’t be able to read this book without thinking of Agatha Christie. Set at a seaside resort in 1932, Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver features a cast of entertaining characters and is a wonderfully rich traditional mystery.
Amory Ames was engaged to Gil Trent, a responsible young man who adored her. However, she met the charming and charismatic Milo Ames and married him. Five years later, Amory is home alone while Milo still lives the carefree life of a wealthy playboy.
When Gil shows up and urges her to join him at the Brightwell for a holiday, Amory’s restlessness and unhappiness spur her to accept his invitation. Gil’s sister, Emmeline is engaged to Rupert Howe, but Gil fears it’s his sister’s wealth Rupert loves more than the young woman herself. Seeing Milo’s personality traits in the younger man, Amory hopes she might be able to help her young friend avoid the same kind of marriage and agrees to join Gil and Emmeline.
Rupert proves to be a very charming but untrustworthy young man. The elite group of British aristocrats who make up the party are equally compelling. Some of them enjoy Rupert’s antics; some of them dislikes him for the same reasons. When he is murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime, Amory feels she has no choice but to prove Gil’s innocence. Her own life becomes more chaotic when Milo shows up at the Brightwell and creates an unpleasant love triangle.
Meanwhile, Milo spreads his charm and good will around, though Amory fears it not just to aid their cause. The fact that he followed her to Brightwell after traveling alone for months doesn’t endear him to his wife. Eventually he decides to join her in her quest to find the real murderer even though his tactics often displease Amory.
It is an impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions.
It was late June, and I was dining alone in the breakfast room when Milo blew in from the south.
“Hello, darling,” he said, brushing a light kiss across my cheek. He dropped into the seat beside me and began buttering a piece of toast, as though it had been two hours since I had seen him last, rather than two months.
I took a sip of coffee. “Hello, Milo. How good of you to drop in.”
“You’re looking well, Amory.”
I had thought the same of him. His time on the Riviera had obviously served him well. His skin was smooth and golden, setting off the bright blue of his eyes. He was wearing a dark gray suit, lounging in that casual way he had of looking relaxed and at home in expensive and impeccably tailored clothes.
“I hadn’t expected to see you back so soon,” I said. His last letter, an offhanded attempt at keeping me informed of his whereabouts, had arrived three weeks before and hinted that he would probably not return home until late July.
“Monte Carlo grew so tedious; I simply had to get away.”
“Yes,” I replied. “Nothing to replace the dull routine of roulette, champagne, and beautiful women like a rousing jaunt to your country house for toast and coffee with your wife.”
Without really meaning to do so, I had poured a cup of coffee, two sugars, no milk, and handed it to him.
“You know, I believe I’ve missed you, Amory.”
He looked me in the eyes then and smiled. Despite myself, I nearly caught my breath. He had that habit of startling, dazzling one with his sudden and complete attention.
It’s always fun to read about how the other half lives, meaning the wealthy, of course. It’s often difficult to imagine having so much money that you never have to worry about what you want to do, you just do it. It would be easy to imagine Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot showing up on the guest list at the Brightwell. The dialogue is quick and witty, but also contains clues that are easily overlooked until you reach the end of the book and truly understand what was said.
I thought Weaver did a masterful job of creating the atmosphere for her mystery, and weaving the plot to make the hotel a character as well. I was a little surprised that she didn’t do the climactic scene with everyone gathered in one room and Amory revealing the murder.
Weaver amped things up a notch when she kept the suspense going with all the characters in her bevy of guests. I did find it difficult to keep up with characters sometimes because she referred to them and Mr. and Mrs. So and So, but then they were called by their first names in dialogue. I caught myself going back a couple of times to be sure who I was reading about.
This group of people, who were enjoying a holiday together, is now forced to stay in the hotel as the police inspector slogs through the clues. As expected, the intrepid policeman is not pleased about Amory’s assistance. When a second murder occurs, he encourages her to back off for her own safety.
“Pleasant chap,” Milo observed, as Inspector Jones walked off, no doubt in search of other victims to interrogate. There was something distinctly unnerving about the man, but I suspected that was a useful characteristic in his line of work.
“A very efficient policeman, I should think,” I replied. And a clever one, unless I missed my guess. There was something Inspector Jones was getting at, something he suspected and was trying to confirm. For some reason, the thought was discomforting.
The state of the romance between Amory and Milo was as much a mystery as the murder way. I wasn’t sure until the end of the book whether the two of them would be able to work out their many differences. And Gil was hovering the wings waiting for his opportunity too. The man was obviously still in love with Amory even though she had called off their engagement.
However, I must admit one thing freely, I was completely surprised at who the murderer was. She fooled me to the end. It wasn’t any of the suspects I had in mind, and she planted some great red herrings along the way. She also planted a number of clues that kept the reader’s head turning from one guest to another.
If you’re a fan of traditional mysteries, you’ll enjoy this one.
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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who writes fiction with her writing partner, Jan Powell. The first book of “The Connelly Witches” miniseries from Harlequin E is available now. Witch’s Awakening by Neely Powell is available as an ebook and will soon be an audio book. Witch’s Haunting comes out in late fall, and you can also get True Nature at all book sites online. Leigh also writes for the popular blog, WomenofMystery.net.
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