Murder on the Bride’s Side is Tracy Kiely’s second murder mystery. I thought her debut novel, Murder at Longbourn, quite charming. Although it was set in modern times, the tie ins to Jane Austen were detailed enough to be satisfying. (In the first book, Aunt Winnie was the proprietor of the Inn at Longbourn, the heroine Elizabeth Parker turned to reading Pride and Prejudice in times of stress, a cat named Lady Catherine prowled the premises, and two friends named Bridget and Colin joined a band of murder suspects for the New Year’s festivities.)
Murder on the Bride’s Side begins where Murder at Longbourn left off. Elizabeth Parker, the heroine who helped to solve the first murder, thereby saving her aunt from being falsely accused, is a fact checker for a local Virginia paper. This explains her eye for details. As the novel opens, guests are assembling to attend Bridget and Colin’s wedding in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth and Peter McGowan are now an item, which must have made Aunt Winnie deliriously happy, for she practically forced Peter’s company onto Elizabeth in Murder at Longbourn.
During her spare time Elizabeth reads Sense and Sensibility, which is quoted quite often at the start of this mystery. These quotes provide a tentative connection to Jane Austen, for, unlike Tracy Kiely’s first novel, the plot of this book has not been so neatly constructed around Jane’s oeuvre, and Tracy stops quoting Sense and Sensibility early on. She quotes other books as well, each one introducing a new chapter, setting up the theme.
As guests arrive for the wedding and assemble for the rehearsal dinner and reception, the reader is introduced to each murder suspect. The victim, Roni, is a suitably nasty individual whose treatment of her husband, Avery, her daughter, Megan, and the world in general is such that murdering her was quite a sensible solution.
Bridget and Colin are married and then the fun happens. As with Tracy Kiely’s first novel, the murder and its denouement are incidental to the development of the characters and their relationship to each other. Kiely’s writing style is breezy and effortless, and she has constructed a tight and entertaining mystery that leads to a satisfying conclusion. This time around the murder is not so easily solved, for she offers a side trail that a careless reader who has missed some important clues might follow.
And now we come to the tricky part of this review, for I truly enjoyed this novel. I live in Richmond, Virginia and was delighted to learn that the novel was set in my city. But the city that Tracy, a Maryland resident describes, is not one that I know. Basic mistakes were made. While going to The Tobacco Company in Shockoe Slip, Tracy has her guests park in a garage near Capitol Hill and then walk several long city blocks to the restaurant. With so many parking garages closer to this dining establishment, why would anyone want to walk through such a featureless, uninteresting part of town? The Governor’s mansion and Virginia state capitol building are not easily seen from the street and the traffic is ghastly. The cobble stone streets of East Cary Street with its trendy boutique shops, restaurants, and bars would have made a much more picturesque backdrop. Plus Tracy describes this slightly touristy, trendy-in-the-1980’s restaurant in detail, while barely mentioning the magnificent interior of the world class, historic register Jefferson Hotel several chapters later.
In this book, Tracy often arranges for people to meet “downtown”. Well, downtown Richmond is a wasteland of office buildings, banks, vacant lots, and parking garages. Major thoroughfares crisscross streets, making it hard for pedestrians to navigate towards the river, for example. The few restaurants that are making it in the financial district tend to be open only for breakfast and lunch. For entertainment and dining, Richmonders say they will meet in a specific section of town: The Fan, Cary Town, the Museum District, Church Hill, the Canal Walk, Belle Isle, Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, Libby and Grove, or the near or far West End. I am being picky, I know, but not once did I get the sense that Tracy’s characters were living and breathing in my city.
Perhaps I quibble too much, for this reviewer from The Richmond Times Dispatch was quite delighted with the book.
I give Murder on the Bride’s Side two out of three Regency fans. Will I read another Elizabeth Parker murder mystery when Tracy Kiely writes her third book? Why, yes, of course. I want to follow Peter and Elizabeth as they deepen their romance against a backdrop of murder most foul. Just not in Richmond.
More on the topic:
- My review of Murder at Longbourn
- My 2009 interview with Tracy Kiely
- Murder on the Bride’s Side is due out this week: Order it here.