Murder Most Austen by Tracy Kiely is the fourth book in the Elizabeth Parker cozy mystery series (available September 4, 2012).
“If I had known that someone was going to kill the man sitting in 4B three days hence, I probably wouldn’t have fantasized about doing the deed myself.”
An ardent Anglophile, Elizabeth Parker can’t believe that she’s actually getting the chance to not only spend a week in England but also to attend the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath. On the plane, she and her Great Aunt Winnie meet Professor Richard Baines, a so-called expert on all things Austen, who is scheduled to speak at the festival. He turns out to be one of those annoying passengers who won’t shut up once they find they have a captive audience.
Within minutes, he regales Elizabeth and Great Aunt Winnie with his rather bizarre theory that within each Austen novel there is a sleazy secondary story, then kicks it up a notch with his supposition about the true cause of Austen’s death. When Elizabeth stumbles over his dead body during a costume ball, it appears that his theories have finally pushed one Austen fan too far. But when Aunt Winnie’s close friend becomes the prime suspect, Aunt Winnie enlists Elizabeth to find Baines’s real killer. With an ex-wife, a scheming daughter-in-law, a student mistress, and a trophy wife, not to mention a festival’s worth of die-hard Austen fans, there are no shortage of suspects.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Jane Austen sequels, prequels, and contemporary revisions that have flooded the marketplace in recent years. So why did I find Tracy Kiely’s new mystery Murder Most Austen most charming? Well the book is set not just in England but in Bath which is one of my favorite cities. This fourth in Tracy Kiely’s series is pure delight. Elizabeth is a spunky and sarcastic narrator, someone I could imagine having a few drinks with as we discuss the absurdity of life. However, it’s the quirky secondary characters who really set this mystery apart.
Great Aunt Winnie is more of an Auntie Mame character than your usual septuagenarian—from her platform shoes to her quirky sense of humor. I was a little jealous that Elizabeth had such a cool aunt. The murder victim is such an ass, it’s no wonder so many people wanted to do him in. I wanted to kill him myself! Then there is Cora, another obsessed Jane Austen fan, and her daughter Isabella, who gushingly declares that Elizabeth is her new best friend five minutes after meeting her.
Part of the fun of reading the mystery is trying to figure out which characters relate to which Jane Austen characters. The book has echoes of Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which is partly set in Bath. The characters also quote a great deal from both Austen’s books and letters during the course of the book. However you don’t have to be a lover of Austen to appreciate the well-crafted mystery at the center of the story. Elizabeth discovers that being part of a murder investigation in a foreign country is not as much fun as Miss Marple or Inspector Lewis make it out to be as she tries not to step on the toes of Inspector Middlefield who is not too keen on having an amateur detective muck up her investigation.
Once again I was sitting in front of Inspector Middlefield and reflecting that the reality of an English murder investigation is far different from its fictional counterpart. Frankly, the fact that I’d even had this thought made me stop for a moment and question my sanity. Maybe my friends were right; maybe I did watch too much Masterpiece Theatre.
Murder Most Austen was a pleasure from start to finish. Kiely has great fun detailing the madcap characters who attend events like the Jane Austen Festival but she also has great respect for the Janeites. I will definitely be seeking out the other three books in the series.
Elizabeth Kerri Mahon loves to write about Scandalous Women and the men that loved them. Her first book, Scandalous Women, was published by Perigee Books in March 2011. Visit her at scandalouswoman.blogspot.com.
Read all posts by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon for Criminal Element.