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Murder Most Austen: A Mystery
     

Murder Most Austen: A Mystery

4.2 4
by Tracy Kiely
 

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A dedicated Anglophile and Janeite, Elizabeth Parker is hoping the trip to the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath will distract her from her lack of a job and her uncertain future with her boyfriend, Peter.

On the plane ride to England, she and Aunt Winnie meet Professor Richard Baines, a self-proclaimed expert on all things Austen. His outlandish claims

Overview

A dedicated Anglophile and Janeite, Elizabeth Parker is hoping the trip to the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath will distract her from her lack of a job and her uncertain future with her boyfriend, Peter.

On the plane ride to England, she and Aunt Winnie meet Professor Richard Baines, a self-proclaimed expert on all things Austen. His outlandish claims that within each Austen novel there is a sordid secondary story is second only to his odious theory on the true cause of Austen's death. When Baines is found stabbed to death in his Mr. Darcy costume during the costume ball, it appears that Baines's theories have finally pushed one Austen fan too far. But Aunt Winnie's friend becomes the prime suspect, so Aunt Winnie enlists Elizabeth to find the professor's real killer. With an ex-wife, a scheming daughter-in-law, and a trophy wife, not to mention a festival's worth of die-hard Austen fans, there are no shortage of suspects.

This fourth in Tracy Kiely's charming series is pure delight. If Bath is the number-one Mecca for Jane Austen fans, Murder Most Austen is the perfect read for those who love some laughs and quick wit with their mystery.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kiely’s pleasing fourth mystery featuring Jane Austen fan Elizabeth Parker (after 2011’s Murder Most Persuasive ) takes Elizabeth and her great-aunt, Winnie Reynolds, to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, the setting of Northanger Abbey . There they meet an old chum of Winnie’s, Cora Beadle, and Cora’s daughter, Izzy, all of whom are horrified by a professor of dubious repute, Richard Baines, who makes a “preposterous proclamation” on the cause of Austen’s death. When Baines, dressed as Mr. Darcy, is stabbed to death at the opening ball, Cora, who took particular offense at his theory, falls under suspicion of murder. Elizabeth and Winnie soon find several people with better reasons than Cora to do in Baines. Janeites will appreciate the several minor characters and situations inspired by Northanger Abbey. Elizabeth makes an engaging protagonist, ably misguided by her lively aunt, though the straightforward plot offers few surprises. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“Another stellar entry in the Austen-centric series...Destined to appeal to Janeites and mystery lovers alike, Kiely's latest whodunit should be universally acknowledged as a clever specimen of a crime novel that blends amateur detection with literary flair.” —Jay Strafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch

“As the mystery unfolds against the well-constructed backdrop of a fan festival, keen Janites will be excited by the frequent use of Austen's own words and phrases as characters interact. VERDICT An engaging story with solid surprises awaits cozy mystery readers, Austen fans, and those looking for a charming series to follow.” —Library Journal

“Kiely's pleasing fourth mystery featuring Jane Austen fan Elizabeth Parker (after 2011's Murder Most Persuasive ) takes Elizabeth and her great-aunt, Winnie Reynolds, to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath....Janeites will appreciate the several minor characters and situations inspired by Northanger Abbey. Elizabeth makes an engaging protagonist, ably misguided by her lively aunt.” —Publishers Weekly

“An ingenious whodunnit where laugh-out-loud humour leavens the tension.” —Jane Austen Regency

Library Journal
Deep in anticipation of the week-long Jane Austen Festival in Bath, Elizabeth Parker and her Aunt Winnie can almost tolerate the obnoxious in-flight pontificating of Professor Baines. Then he shares his scandalous new theory: Austen died of syphilis. When the professor is murdered at the Regency Masked Ball, angry Janites aren't the only suspects. The shortlist also includes his ex-wife, daughter-in-law, and grad student. Will Elizabeth's previous investigative experiences (Murder Most Pursuasive; Murder on the Bride's Side; Murder at Longbourn) help her unmask the proper person? This fourth series outing subtly provides new readers with key points from the past without annoying returning fans with excessive backtracking. As the mystery unfolds against the well-constructed backdrop of a fan festival, keen Janites will be excited by the frequent use of Austen's own words and phrases as characters interact. VERDICT An engaging story with solid surprises awaits cozy mystery readers, Austen fans, and those looking for a charming series to follow.—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH
Kirkus Reviews
A much-anticipated trip to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath becomes a nightmare for an amateur sleuth. Elizabeth Parker (Murder Most Persuasive, 2011, etc.) is out of a job, living with her cranky sister and unsure whether she wants to commit to her current boyfriend. A trip to England with her beloved Aunt Winnie, a fellow Jane-ite, seems just the ticket to cheer her up, but things go wrong from the minute they meet Professor Richard Baines on the plane. The obnoxious Baines, who contends that all Austen's novels conceal scandalous hidden stories, plans to present a paper at the meeting claiming that the author herself died of syphilis. Elizabeth and Winnie enjoy a day exploring London and a night at Claridge's Hotel until they run into Cora Beadle, another Jane-ite, and her stunningly beautiful daughter, Izzy. Cora is so angry with the news about Baines that she threatens to kill him. When he's found dead after a fancy dress ball in Bath, Cora is the obvious suspect. When Winnie, who's sure that her old friend is not a killer, asks her niece to investigate, Elizabeth isn't surprised to learn that the outspoken professor had quite a few people angry with him, beginning with his ex-wife, his son, his hard-as-nails daughter-in-law and the graduate student with whom he'd been having an affair. As she digs up more dirt, Elizabeth makes herself a target. A light, enjoyable read with just enough homicide to ballast the Austen quotations Elizabeth and Winnie keep swapping.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250017352
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
09/04/2012
Series:
Elizabeth Parker Mysteries , #4
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
248,069
File size:
875 KB

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Murder Most Austen

A Mystery


By Tracy Kiely

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Tracy Kiely
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01735-2


CHAPTER 1

There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.

— PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

If i had known that someone was going to kill the man sitting in 4B three days hence, I probably wouldn't have fantasized about doing the deed myself.

Probably.

However, as it stood, I didn't have this knowledge. The only knowledge I did have was that he was a pompous ass and had not stopped talking once in the last two hours.

"Of course, only the truly clever reader can discern that it is beneath Austen's superficial stories that the real narrative lies. Hidden beneath an attractive veil of Indian muslin, Austen presents a much darker world. It is a sordid world of sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, abortions, and incest. It is in highlighting these darker stories to the less perceptive reader that I have devoted my career," the man was now saying to his seatmate.

I guessed him to be in his late fifties. He was tall and fair, with those WASPy good looks that lend themselves well to exclusive men's clubs, the kinds that still exclude women and other dangerous minorities. His theories were so patently absurd that at first I'd found his commentary oddly entertaining. However, as Austen herself observed, of some delights, a little goes a long way.

This was rapidly becoming one of those delights.

From the manner in which the young woman to his right gazed at him with undisguised awe, it was clear that she did not share my desire to duct-tape his mouth shut. Her brown eyes were not rolling back into her head with exasperation; rather, they were practically sparkling with idolization from behind her wire-framed glasses. While both our faces were flushed from his words, the cause for the heightened color on her elfin features stemmed from reverence; the cause of mine was near-boiling irritation.

I closed my eyes and tried to drown out their conversation by thinking happier thoughts. After all, I was on a plane — and not just any plane, mind you, but a British Airways flight headed to London. London! From there I was headed to Bath to attend the Jane Austen Festival. A week-long celebration of all things Jane, and attended by Janeites from all over the world. For an Anglophile like me, this was about as close to nirvana as one could get. I tried to think of scones heaped with clotted cream, red telephone boxes, gorgeous accents, and the off chance that I might spy Colin Firth — anything to distract myself from the man in 4B.

And yet, I could not.

"Now I grant you that mine is a special talent," he droned on. "It is not everyone who can unravel the secret messages — the ciphers, if you will — that are embedded in each of her works. In fact, it could be said that I am the Rosetta stone of Austen."

I wondered how much trouble I would get in if I threw my shoe at his head.

Next to me, my aunt Winnie shifted in her seat and cast an idle glance in the man's direction before turning to me. "Is it morning already?" she asked, stretching her arms out in front of her.

"No," I said, checking my watch. "It's still the middle of the night."

Her eyes sought out the man again as if perplexed. "But the cock's crowing."

"Oh, well, in that case," I said agreeably, "it's been morning for a long, long time now."

"Well, I just think it's amazing," the young woman said now. "I studied Austen as an undergrad and no one ever even hinted at these other stories. Although some of my professors discussed the moral teachings found in her works, they mainly focused on her social satire. I never saw any of the intended stories until your class. I mean, I never realized that in Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot's relationship with his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was incestuous, or that in Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood's illness was really the result of a botched abortion until you pointed it out." She beamed obsequiously at him.

I tried to remember if I'd ever treated any of my professors with such a groveling display of worship. Hmmm. Let me think.

Nope.

Granted, I'd liked and respected a great number of them, but I hadn't had any crushes on any of them. Then again, I'd attended an all-girls Catholic school, largely taught by the Sisters of Notre-Dame, so that last part probably isn't too surprising. I might be somewhat jaded at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, but witnessing this dual display of academic love — for this fool of a man — did not arouse even a minuscule atom of regret at this apparent gap in my academic career.

The man nodded sagely at his seatmate. "I'm not surprised. Unfortunately, most of today's English professors — and I use that term very loosely — are completely ignorant of Austen's true objective."

I gave up trying to ignore them, shifted in my seat, and craned my neck to look for the flight attendant. If I was going to be forced to listen to this drivel, I needed a drink. A Chardonnay drink. Aunt Winnie saw my movement and easily divined my intention. "Order me one, too, sweetheart," she said.

"Already on it," I replied.

The man continued. "They have interpreted her works in a manner appropriate to what they believe a spinster writing during the Regency period intended. While they view her works as containing some biting satire, they don't grasp the whole picture! But, as I have diligently maintained, that is the true beauty of Austen's work. She was subverting society's precious rules all the while pretending to live by them. She described life as it really was — rough, extremely sexual, and, at times, evil and dark. She dressed it up and let the dull see what they wanted and hoped that the astute reader — a reader like myself — would see it for what it was: a forceful condemnation of the sanctimonious hypocrisy of both society and the church."

Honestly, it was beginning to amount to auditory torture. It almost made me yearn for a teething baby or gassy seatmate. And besides, wasn't this technically a form of assault? Because that's what this boiled down to — assault with an unwanted opinion. And just where the hell was the flight attendant?

"It's all very exciting," the women murmured. "Your discoveries will not only revolutionize how Jane Austen's work is viewed, but how that whole period of literature is viewed."

"Yes, they will," he agreed without modesty. "And I anticipate that after I deliver my latest paper, I will also revolutionize people's views on how her life was lived."

"Do you have a copy with you?" she asked, her voice hopeful. "I'd love to read it, if I may."

He dipped his sleek head condescendingly. "I'm sure you would, but unfortunately I don't have it with me. My assistant, Byron, is putting the finishing touches on it. He's already in London tweaking it. We're to finalize the details tomorrow. Perhaps I could show it to you then."

The young woman was silent for a moment. "I see. Of course. Is, um, your wife coming as well?"

He gave a slight nod. "She is. She flew out yesterday."

The woman's eyes fell to her lap in obvious disappointment, but she said nothing. If the man noticed, he didn't let on. "Tell me, Lindsay," he said, "what did you think of my last lecture, where I detailed how Austen's works, when taken in total, are really a kind of early manifesto for the ideals of communism?"

I glanced down at my shoes. No thick boots here, only ballet flats. Even if I threw them really hard, they wouldn't be able to inflict any real damage. I sighed.

"I loved it, of course," the woman answered immediately. "But do you really believe that Austen herself was an atheist?" There was the barest suggestion of doubt now lurking in those adoring brown eyes.

"Believe it? I defy you to prove otherwise! How else do you explain a character like Mr. Collins? He was a pompous, silly egomaniac," was his assured reply.

"There appears to be a lot of that going around," Aunt Winnie said in hearty agreement. She made no attempt to modulate her voice. But to be fair, Aunt Winnie has never been a huge proponent of modulation, whether in voice, appearance, or opinion. One needs only to see her curly red hair and bright green eyes — both of which have intensified in color over the years thanks to Clairol and colored contacts — to deduce that. She is the personification of Tallulah Bankhead's observation, "I'm the foe of moderation, the champion of excess."

Not surprisingly, both the man and the woman turned our way. Aunt Winnie smiled brightly at them. I knew that smile well. It combined all the warmth of Machiavelli with the subtlety of the Cheshire Cat. It also signaled to those who knew her well that it was — as she herself put it — "on like Donkey Kong." I gestured again — a little more impatiently now — for the flight attendant to bring the drinks cart.

The man's full lips drew back into a condescending smile; his teeth were very large and very white. "I take it that you don't concur with my views on Austen," he purred silkily. Next to him, the young woman blinked with owl-like alertness.

"I most certainly do not," Aunt Winnie replied with the cool politeness of a society matron. She then ruined the effect by adding, "In fact, I think they are utter bullshit."

"No, no, I completely understand," he continued with a patronizing air. "Many women — especially women of a 'certain generation'— find my discoveries to be somewhat off-putting."

"Stewardess!" I called out, it having now become paramount that I get her attention if I was going to prevent Aunt Winnie from physically demonstrating just what she did and didn't find off-putting.

Aunt Winnie leaned forward. "Women of a certain generation? Are you suggesting that women of 'my generation,' as you so clumsily put it, are unable to discern reality from perversion?"

Thankfully, the flight attendant arrived, providing a momentary diversion, and no doubt preventing Aunt Winnie from throwing her shoes at the man. And as they were three-inch platforms, they might have actually done some damage. "May I help you?" the flight attendant politely inquired.

"I certainly hope so," I muttered to myself.

Her round face pulled in confusion. "Sorry?"

"I'd like to order a drink, please —" I began, but the man in 4B cut me off.

"I fear I may have offended you," he said. "Please let me offer the proverbial olive branch and order us all a glass of champagne." Before any of us could answer, he addressed the flight attendant. "Four champagnes, please. Your very best, of course."

"We only have the one kind," she replied.

"Well, nevertheless, put it on my tab," he replied with a lofty wave of his manicured hand. I noticed he was wearing a gold pinkie ring. It suited him.

"It's complimentary, sir," she said and briskly strode to the kitchen area to ready the drinks.

Turning his attention back to us, the man asked, "I gather you are a fan of the dear lady, Miss Jane Austen?"

"We are," Aunt Winnie replied, brushing back her trademark red curls.

"Well then, we are well met!" he replied with a practiced smile. "For I don't think you will meet anyone who reveres Miss Austen or her work more than I." He twisted his long body in his seat, the movement producing nary a crease in his perfectly pressed tan slacks. "May I introduce myself? I am Professor Richard Baines and this is ... one of my graduate students, Miss Lindsay Weaver."

Lindsay nodded somberly at us. She was a tiny little thing, her pixie features not being limited to her face alone; her thick blue cardigan and wool skirt practically swallowed up her small frame. She wore no makeup, but her complexion was nevertheless clear and smooth, and her jet-black hair was cut short with thick bangs that skimmed the top of her glasses.

"I am Winifred Reynolds," replied Aunt Winnie, "and this is my great-niece, Elizabeth Parker." I produced a weak smile.

"And are you on your way to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath?" Professor Baines asked.

"We are," I answered.

"Excellent! We are, as well. I attend every year, of course. In addition to being a professor of English literature, I'm a frequent lecturer at many of the Jane Austen regional societies."

"I see," Aunt Winnie replied. "And how do they generally react when you tell them that Austen was not only an atheist but a Communist to boot?"

He shrugged, unconcerned. "Some don't like it, of course. They see it as a heresy of sorts. Others, of course, are able to catch a glimmer of the truth. It is to those advanced minds to whom I chiefly address my papers."

"Uh-huh, and do you mind sharing the basis for this rather astonishing revelation that Jane Austen, daughter of a clergyman and by all accounts a God-fearing Christian woman, was actually an atheist, Rich?" Aunt Winnie inquired. I glanced at her in bewilderment. Why was she engaging this man in conversation, especially since it was clear he was a complete dolt? Then I saw the answer. She had finished her Elizabeth Peters paperback and was looking for a new form of entertainment. Inwardly, I groaned. A bored Aunt Winnie was always a daunting prospect.

"It's Richard, actually, and I'd be happy to enlighten you," replied Professor Baines. "Through Miss Austen's character Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, we can perceive her true feelings for the church and the clergy. Mr. Collins is, of course, a buffoon and a hypocrite. He is no man of God, which was Miss Austen's way of saying that none of the clergy are men of God. They are all quacks and charlatans."

Well, if Aunt Winnie was going to play, then I saw no reason not to join, particularly when Jane Austen was the subject. I mentally buzzed in to the game: Alex, I'll take "The Clergy in Austen" for $800.

"I agree with you that Mr. Collins is a fool," I said, "but he's just one of the many examples of clergymen that Austen presents us with. We also have Mr. Tilney in Northanger Abbey, who is sensible, kind, and wise."

Not posed in the form of a question, perhaps, but still correct.

Professor Baines and Lindsay, however, exchanged glances of sympathetic derision. "I thought exactly as you did, Elizabeth," Lindsay said kindly but knowingly, "until I realized, thanks to Professor Baines, that Mr. Tilney is an even bigger hypocrite than Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is a fool, but Mr. Tilney is an educated man, and so his crime is more the worse."

"His crime?" Aunt Winnie asked, her artfully enhanced brows drawn together in confusion. "What crime did poor Mr. Tilney commit?"

"Poor Mr. Tilney, indeed! Why, madam, he helped his father cover up the crime of murdering his mother! He was an accessory after the fact!" Lindsay exclaimed.

I stared at her in horrified amusement. "But his mother wasn't murdered!" I interjected. "That is the whole point of Northanger Abbey — to illustrate the dangers of an overactive imagination."

"No, that's what you are meant to think," said Professor Baines. "That's the cover story that Austen wrote to hide her true tale — one of murderous deeds and the sins of hiding them. Did you never notice that it's called NorthANGER Abbey? Austen is very angry about her topic. It is no coincidence that Mr. Tilney is one of the most heinous of all Austen's villains."

"Mr. Tilney?" I repeated in disbelief. "But that's absurd! He's ... he's ... well, he's Mr. Tilney!" Inarticulate perhaps, but true. Aunt Winnie patted my hand in silent commiseration.

"It most definitely is not absurd," Professor Baines replied testily. "There is much more than meets the eye in Austen, especially with regard to her antiestablishment views about the church. Take for instance Mary Crawford's comment about the clergy in Mansfield Park. Do you recall what she said? 'A clergyman has nothing to do but be slovenly and selfish — read the newspaper, watch the weather, and quarrel with his wife. His curate does all the work, and the business of his own life is to dine.'" He smiled smugly at us. "How do you explain that passage, if not as a condemnation of the church?"

"I think that you are forgetting that Mary's not the heroine — Fanny is. Mary's words were meant not as a jab at the church but as evidence of her own selfish character," I said. "Remember, in the end Mary is revealed to be a woman of indifferent morals."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Murder Most Austen by Tracy Kiely. Copyright © 2012 Tracy Kiely. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Tracy Kiely has been a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. A self-proclaimed Anglophile who grew up reading Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, she lives with her husband and three children in Maryland.


Tracy Kiely has been a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is the author of books including Murder at Longbourn and Murder on the Bride's Side. A self-proclaimed Anglophile who grew up reading Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, she lives with her husband and three children in Maryland.

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Murder Most Austen: A Mystery 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Michelle1948 More than 1 year ago
I recommend this entire series! I have read each and every one of these 4 books in the series and they are delightful! A great cozy mystery! Love all the characters and always a great murder mystery.
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