Once I began reading Murder at Longbourn, a fast moving mystery written by Tracy Kiely, I discovered with pleasant surprise that I had difficulty putting this debut novel down. I say surprise, for it has been several years since I enjoyed reading a mystery novel. The plot reminded me of an old fashioned Agatha Christie drawing room murder with some humor thrown in. On New Year’s eve, Elizabeth Parker’s eccentric Aunt Winnifred, the proprietor of the Inn at Longbourn and a lover of all things Jane Austen, decides to throw a “How to Host a Murder Party.” Elizabeth, wishing to forget her two-timing boyfriend, has arrived to help her. Aunt Winnie informs Elizabeth almost immediately that she has also invited Peter McGowan to help out. Upon hearing this news, Elizabeth’s heart sinks. At fourteen, Peter had locked her chubby and awkward ten-year-old-self in the basement and mockingly called her Cocoa Puff. Hating the idea of their remeeting, for Elizabeth is convinced that Peter has not changed one whit, she decides to stay and honor her commitment to Aunt Winnie. Making the best of what is she is sure will become an awkward situation, Elizabeth writes a list of resolutions:
- I will have inner poise
- I will not let Peter McGowan get under my skin
- I will not allow myself to be locked in a dark basement
- I will have a calm and relaxing New Year’s
But then things go bump in the night and Elizabeth’s well-laid plans for a smooth evening go awry. A wealthy guest is murdered in the middle of a murder mystery game, leaving the actors without a script to work from and the local police scratching their heads. When Elizabeth realizes that poor Aunt Winnie is the most likely suspect, she goes into overdrive to help solve the murder. Peter turns out to be an unlikely ally. In fact, Tracy Kiely had devised a situation in which the hero and heroine at first misunderstand each other. (Quelle surprise!) The heroine must then sort through her ill-conceived preconceptions before COMING to an UNDERSTANDING with the hero. Shades of Pride and Prejudice, which also happens to be Elizabeth Parker’s favorite novel! Throw in a cat named Lady Catherine, two friends called Bridget and Colin (I kid you not), a plot set in New ENGLAND in a small village inhabited by gossipy small village characters similar to the sort found in Meryton, a sprinkling of clues that left this reader pondering and wondering until the very end, and you have a fabulous read.
Tracy Kiely weaves her old-fashioned murder mystery with a modern sensibility and the sort of humorous observations about the human character that I love. Those who have come to appreciate a more forensic approach to murder solving, will be a tad disappointed, but those who love good writing, well-drawn characters, a solid mystery plot that is hard to solve, and Austenesque overtones, will enjoy this book as much as I did. Not that Tracy’s debut novel is entirely without fault, for she introduced a score of characters at the beginning, many of whom were hard to recall only pages later, and after the actors played their roles, they were suddenly dropped from the plot. As the mystery unfolded, Austenesque details and humorous observations came fewer and farther between, and never quite reappeared to my satisfaction. The good news is that Tracy Kiely has been given an opportunity to perfect her craft and hone her considerable writing skills. Next year, the delightful Elizabeth Parker will solve another murder mystery in Tracy’s second novel, Murder on the Bride’s Side.
I give this Austenesque novel three out of three Regency fans.