Amory Ames has had enough of her jet-setting husband Milo, and when she gets an invitation from an old flame, Gil, she announces that their marriage is over and heads for the Brightwell, a hotel on the South Coast. Gil’s sister Emmeline is on the verge of marrying the undesirable Rupert Howe, and Gil hopes that Amory’s experiences with Milo can help persuade Emmeline to call of the union.
But Gil has plans to rekindle his relationship with Amory, but that plan has two significant hurdles. First of all, Rupert is found at the bottom of the cliff with his head bashed in. And secondly, Milo arrives, as what better catalyst could there be for reviving a relationship than investigating a murder with his estranged wife?
You may recall (although I doubt it) that I asked around to find the final six books for my reading challenge for the year – books written in the present day that were or were not properly clued mysteries. Well, as so many books these days have a quote or two comparing the book to the work of Dame Agatha, I thought I’d fill the final slots with books that boasted such comparisons. So let’s check this one… “Especially recommended to fans of Agatha Christie” – yup, it qualifies.
This one is set in 1932 in England, the sort of England that you think of in a Christie novel, namely mostly involving the upper-middle class with the servants being out of sight and out of mind. The author makes a point of being a tad nebulous on detail, possibly in part to her being based in the US. She does a good job of establishing the setting, although there are a couple of slips – the hotel is described as being on the southern coast, rather than the South Coast and it was a long time before the 1930s when people referred to the chemists as the Apothecary. But there’s a refreshing lack of the need to deliver a message about the politics of the time. I do enjoy those books that give a genuine history lesson alongside the mystery plot, but sometimes it’s good to just have a bit of fun. Ashley Weaver’s writing style – in the first person from Amory – is light and breezy, and the situation that Amory finds herself in is something that I haven’t seen before, and it creates an interesting dynamic and plot questions beyond who the murderer is.
This is a fun page-turner, mostly due to the central characters. I would read this one before checking the blurbs for later books as it does mean that one avenue of suspicion would be closed off to the reader, but the interplay between Amory and Milo, as she tries to work out exactly what he’s up to while trying to find a murderer is a highlight of the book.
But let’s go back to that line – “especially recommended to fans of Agatha Christie”. I wonder, how much Christie has the reviewer who wrote that read? Maybe it’s recommended so that fans of Dame Agatha can say, with authority, that no one comes close to her magnificence. Or is it, as I’ve often suspected, the average mystery reader doesn’t give two hoots for actual clues but just sees the mystery as a guessing game? Because that is what this is – the plot has more in common with that multitude of American cosy books due to it mostly consists of nosing around until the murderer gets a bit bored and sticks a gun in the sleuth’s face. But I do have a soft spot for the occasional dip into that genre…
But while the central mystery here isn’t a highlight, this is an entertaining story of an investigation that kept me occupied for a few hours, enjoying the company of the lead characters. Worth a look, but, as I said, don’t expect a Christie-esque puzzle… Of course, it’s worth pointing out that this is the author’s first book – who knows what is to come? I’ll let you as I’ll be back sooner or later…