Review: Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper

Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper is the 1st book in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mystery series, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

I was invited to a destination wedding a few years ago—the actual ceremony took place in a picturesque, centuries-old church in a charming French fishing village. It looked like a great time, but, sadly, I did not have the cash to fly to France and stay for a week, so I had to content myself with the online photo album. Which is a real shame because I’ve seen Four Weddings and a Funeral, and I can’t help but harbor the fantasy that there might have been a handsome single Frenchman waiting for me at the rustic restaurant where everyone gathered for the wedding banquet. (Does Jean Dujardin have a brother?) 

The cozy cover of Marla Cooper’s Terror in Taffeta—a debut novel and the first in the author’s Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mystery series—clues us in to the subgenre and tone of the story, but it’s a nice surprise to find the book’s sassy narrator would not be out of place in, say, one of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. She’s smart, a little snarky, and a bit lovelorn, and from her first thoughts as she observes the gaggle of young women dressing for the Mexican wedding of the bride and groom’s dreams—the mother of the bride was hoping for Napa—Kelsey is hilariously relatable. 

“The sea-foam green bridesmaids’ dresses had been a mistake,” Kelsey notes to herself. “Not for the obvious reason—that sea-foam green bridesmaids’ dresses are almost always a mistake—but because they added a sickly tinge to Nicole Abernathy’s three very hungover bridesmaids.” 

How many readers have worn bridesmaids’ dresses so ugly they were sure the bride wanted them to look bad on purpose? How many of them were sea-foam green? 

And speaking of bridesmaids, we pretty much know which one is going to be dead before the first champagne toast and … we’re okay with that. She’s an absolute pill, complaining about everything. A last-minute addition to the bridal party, she is annoyed that her shoes don’t exactly match the other attendants’ shoes. She doesn’t understand why everyone has to get dressed in one tiny cramped room at the historic wedding chapel. “Why aren’t there any vegan options on the menu?” she demands. “Umm, because … shut up, that’s why,” an exasperated Kelsey thinks but does not say because she’s the “magical fairy who makes things happen” and her job is to make sure that the bride (as hungover as her bridesmaids) has a perfect day.

If only it were that easy. 

When the mother of the bride demands that the death be kept from her daughter so as not to mar her happiness, Kelsey goes along as long as she can, but all hell breaks loose the next day when the “secret” comes to light. It’s left to Kelsey and her wedding photographer best friend Brody Marx to literally pack up all the loose ends before they head back to San Francisco. In classic amateur sleuth tradition, they balance love (both are looking for a nice guy to settle down with) and detection as they discover the secret that led to the murder. 

It takes Brody a little while to sign on for the job—“This is way outside the wedding planner’s jurisdiction,” he protests—but as the clues pile up and the police get involved, he’s soon Kelsey’s willing accomplice, especially as she worries that if the crime isn’t solved no one is ever going to hire her again.

It turns out there’s no shortage of suspects, and yet the police settle on the one person that Kelsey is sure isn’t guilty. Even as her instincts tell her it’s time to “turn in her badge” and go home before she loses any more clients, she just can’t abandon a person she is sure is innocent. Evan, the Brody-approved private pilot who keeps turning up in Kelsey’s life, thinks she’d doing the right thing, and that adds a little romantic spice to what comes next. 

In the past few years, there’s been a glut of cozy mysteries set against a huge variety of backdrops. In fact, there are so many that it’s almost devalued the subgenre. This debut novel is not your Aunt Agatha’s cozy, though, and fans of Harley Jane Kozak’s Wollie Shelly and Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon books may just find that Cooper is their new favorite author.

But there’s just one thing—after reading Terror in Taffeta, I’m pretty sure if I ever do get married, it’s going to be a brief ceremony at City Hall. That way nobody has to die!

Read an excerpt from Terror in Taffeta!


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Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun HoneyA Twist of NoirLuna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird NoirPulp Ink 2Alt-DeadAlt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.

Read all posts by Katherine Tomlinson for Criminal Element.


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