By Tracy Kiely (2011)
Review by Sherry Evans, Portsmouth Public Library
“Martin Reynold’s death came as a surprise to no one.”
So begins Tracy Kiely’s third Elizabeth Parker mystery, a series influenced by the novels of Jane Austen. Young Elizabeth Parker is our “who me” sleuth in the vein of Agatha Christie’s unassuming Miss Jane Marple. Each of these charming, fictional women is conveniently on the spot, part of the family or best friends with the deceased. And neither has any background in detecting.
Miss Marple lives in the quaint St. Mary Mead (UK), a village where murders happen routinely; and Elizabeth, a modern-day 28-year-old D.C. journalist, enthusiastically helps people get to the bottom of things, both to the chagrin of local law enforcement.
Kiely’s series intrigued me in many ways. First, I had never heard of her and here I was reading a review for her soon-to-be-published fourth book, “Murder Most Austen.” The review in Publisher’s Weekly was solid, “Kiely expertly combines the wit and spunk of Austen’s protagonists with a contemporary traditional mystery, creating an entertaining puzzle. Austen fans especially are in for a big treat.” And secondly, I am further intrigued by any book that borrows from classic literature.
“Murder Most Persuasive” is not only a clever cozy mystery, it is also very funny. Elizabeth’s Aunt Winnie features prominently in each one. She is Elizabeth’s great aunt, full of Jane Austen common sense, wit, droll good humor and a hip lady. Not everyone enjoys the Austen references however:
Aunt Winnie grinned at me. “Yes, I could see how you would think that Elizabeth is the properest person to watch the baby.”
I nodded in mock agreement. “Quite. For I have not a mother’s feelings.”
Kit stamped her foot in annoyance while Aunt Winnie and I giggled. “I hate it when you two do that!,” she said.
Kit is Elizabeth’s very pregnant sister. Kit and Elizabeth’s mother is dating George.
“I’m not one of those pansy vegetarians” (says George). He then flexed his biceps, kissed it, and added, “My guns need protein.”
Really, not even Jane Austen would have a snappy comeback to that.
Every chapter begins with a quote from an Austen novel, a hint to the action in the chapter. From Chapter 1: Unfortunately there are so many who forget to think seriously till it is almost too late (“Persuasion”).
This quote from Emma, heads the chapter of the awkward meeting of Cousin Ann and her ex-boyfriend, the detective assigned to investigate the murder: “Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”
Tracy Kiely is one of many authors to use Jane Austen as a beginning point. Sharon Lathan writes the “Darcy Saga,” Stephanie Barron the “Jane Austen Mystery series” and, most recently, the famous British author P.D. James wrote “Death Comes to Pemberly,” a murder mystery sequel to “Pride and Prejudice.”
In the not so cozy area there are these two graphic novels: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” by Seth Grahame-Smith, and “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters,” by Ben H. Winters. Jane Austen flourishes even in this modern-day genre.
By the way, the murder is not Martin Reynold’s, he died of natural causes, it’s the man, Michael Barrow, found buried under a swimming pool in Chapter 3, and who happens to be the ex-fiance of Elizabeth’s Cousin Ann. His death is the mysterious one. And another murder follows. So it goes in the cozy world.
Need some light reading this summer? This is your series. Clever writing, solid mystery plot, Jane Austen influences and hearty laughs.
“She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.” — Pride and Prejudice
The Tracy Kiely/Elizabeth Parker mystery series:
1. Murder at Longbourn (2009)
2. Murder on the Bride’s Side (2010)
3. Murder Most Persuasive (2011)
4. Murder Most Austen (2012)
(Book Review published in Seacoast Seniors, August 2012)