Shortlisted for the Edgar Awards
Ashley Weaver’s debut mystery, Murder at the Brightwell, is a delicious, stylish novel in which murder invades British polite society and romance springs in unexpected places, and a wonderful testament to the enduring delight of the traditional mystery.
“An elegant Christie-esque 1930s romp.” Deborah Crombie
“If you love Downton Abbey, you'll adore Ashley Weaver’s charming debut.”Susan Elia MacNeal
“It’s more terrible than you think, Mrs. Ames. It appears that Mr. Howe was murdered.”
Amory Ames, a wealthy young woman questioning her marriage to her notoriously charming playboy husband, Milo, is looking for a change. She accepts a request for help from her former fiancé, Gil Trent, not knowing that she’ll soon become embroiled in a murder investigation that will not only test her friendship with Gil, but also will upset the status quo with her husband.
Amory accompanies Gil to the luxurious Brightwell Hotel in an attempt to circumvent the marriage of his sister, Emmeline, to Rupert Howe a disreputable ladies man. There is more than her happiness at stake, however, when Rupert is murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime. Matters are further complicated by Milo’s unexpected arrival, and as the line between friend and foe becomes less clear, Amory must decide where her heart lies and catch the killer before she, too, becomes a victim.
Also out now in the Amory Ames mysteries: Death Wears a Mask and A Most Novel Revenge
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
KENT, ENGLAND 1932
IT IS AN impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions.
It was late June, and I was dining alone in the breakfast room when Milo blew in from the south.
“Hello, darling,” he said, brushing a light kiss across my cheek. He dropped into the seat beside me and began buttering a piece of toast, as though it had been two hours since I had seen him last, rather than two months.
I took a sip of coffee. “Hello, Milo. How good of you to drop in.”
“You’re looking well, Amory.”
I had thought the same of him. His time on the Riviera had obviously served him well. His skin was smooth and golden, setting off the bright blue of his eyes. He was wearing a dark gray suit, lounging in that casual way he had of looking relaxed and at home in expensive and impeccably tailored clothes.
“I hadn’t expected to see you back so soon,” I said. His last letter, an offhanded attempt at keeping me informed of his whereabouts, had arrived three weeks before and hinted that he would probably not return home until late July.
“Monte Carlo grew so tedious; I simply had to get away.”
“Yes,” I replied. “Nothing to replace the dull routine of roulette, champagne, and beautiful women like a rousing jaunt to your country house for toast and coffee with your wife.”
Without really meaning to do so, I had poured a cup of coffee, two sugars, no milk, and handed it to him.
“You know, I believe I’ve missed you, Amory.”
He looked me in the eyes then and smiled. Despite myself, I nearly caught my breath. He had that habit of startling, dazzling one with his sudden and complete attention.
Grimes, our butler, appeared at the door just then. “Someone to see you in the morning room, madam.” He did not acknowledge Milo. Grimes, it had long been apparent, was no great admirer of my husband. He treated him with just enough respect that his obvious distaste should not cross the boundary into impropriety.
“Thank you, Grimes. I will go to the morning room directly.”
“Very good, madam.” He disappeared as noiselessly as he had come.
The fact that Grimes’s announcement had been so vague as to keep Milo in the dark about the identity of my visitor was not lost on my husband. He turned to me and smiled as he buttered a second piece of toast. “Have I interrupted a tryst with your secret lover by my unexpected arrival?”
I set my napkin down and rose. “I have no secrets from you, Milo.” I turned as I reached the door and flashed his smile back at him. “If I had a lover, I would certainly inform you of it.”
* * *
ON MY WAY to the morning room, I stopped at the large gilt mirror in the hallway to be sure the encounter with my wayward husband had not left me looking as askew as I felt. My reflection looked placidly back at me, gray eyes calm, waved dark hair in place, and I was reassured.
It took time, I had learned, to prepare myself for Milo. Unfortunately, he did not often oblige me by giving notice of his arrival.
I reached the door to the morning room, wondering who my visitor might be. Grimes’s mysterious announcement was a reflection of my husband’s presence, not the presence of my visitor, so I would have been unsurprised to find as commonplace a guest as my cousin Laurel behind the solid oak door. I entered the room and found myself surprised for the second time that morning.
The man seated on the white Louis XVI sofa was not my cousin Laurel. He was, in fact, my former fiancé.
“Hello, Amory.” He had risen from his seat as I entered, and we stared at one another.
Gilmore Trent and I had known each other for years and had been engaged for all of a month when I had met Milo. The two men could not have been more different. Gil was fair; Milo was dark. Gil was calm and reassuring; Milo was reckless and exciting. Compared with Milo’s charming unpredictability, Gil’s steadiness had seemed dull. Young fool that I had been, I had chosen illusion over substance. Gil had taken it well and wished me happiness in that sincere way of his, and that was the last that I had seen of him. Until now.
“How have you been?” I asked, moving forward to take his hand. His grip was warm and firm, familiar.
“Quite well. And you? You look wonderful. Haven’t changed a bit.” He smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners, and I felt instantly at ease. He was still the same old Gil.
I motioned to the sofa. “Sit down. Would you care for some tea? Or perhaps breakfast?”
“No, no. Thank you. I realize I have already imposed upon you, dropping in unannounced as I have.”
A pair of blue silk-upholstered chairs sat across from him, and I sank into one, somehow glad Grimes had chosen the intimate morning room over one of the more ostentatious sitting rooms. “Nonsense. I’m delighted to see you.” I realized that I meant it. It was awfully good to see him. Gil had kept out of society and I had wondered, more than once in the five years since my marriage, what had become of him.
“It’s good to see you too, Amory.” He was looking at me attentively, trying to determine, I supposed, how the years had changed me. Despite his claim that I was still the same, I knew the woman before him was quite different from the girl he had once known.
Almost without realizing it, I had been appraising him as well. Five years seemed to have altered him very little. Gil was very good-looking in a solid and conventional sort of way, not stunning like Milo but very handsome. He had dark blond hair and well-formed, pleasant features. His eyes were a light, warm brown, with chocolaty flecks drawn out today by his brown tweed suit.
“I should have written to you before my visit,” he went on, “but, to tell the truth … I wasn’t sure you would see me.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” I smiled, suddenly happy to be sitting here with an old friend, despite what had passed between us. “After all, the bad behavior was entirely on my part. I am surprised that you would care to see me.”
“All water under the bridge.” He leaned forward slightly, lending sincerity to his words. “I told you at the time, there was no one to blame.”
“That is kind of you, Gil.”
He spoke lightly, but his lips twitched up at the corners as though his mouth could not quite decide if he was serious, could not quite support a smile. “Yes. Well, one can’t stop love, can one?”
“No.” My smile faded. “One can’t.”
He leaned back in his seat then, dismissing the intimacy of the moment. “How is Milo?”
“He’s very well. He returned only this morning from the Riviera.”
“Yes, I had read something about his being in Monte Carlo in the society columns.” I could only imagine what it might have been. Within six months of my marriage, I had learned it was better not to know what the society columns said about Milo.
For just a moment, the specter of my husband hung between us in the air.
I picked up the box of cigarettes on the table and offered one to him, knowing he didn’t smoke. To my surprise, he accepted, pulling a lighter from his pocket. He touched the flame to the tip of his cigarette and inhaled deeply.
“What have you been doing these past few years?” I asked, immediately wondering if the question was appropriate. It seemed that some shadow of the past tainted nearly every topic. I knew that he had left England for a time after we had parted ways. Perhaps his travel since our parting was not something he wished to discuss. After all, there had been a time when we had traveled together. In the old days, before either of us had ever thought of marriage, our families had often been thrown together on various holidays abroad, and Gil and I had become fast friends and confidants. He had good-naturedly accompanied me in searching out scenic spots or exploring ancient ruins, and our evenings had been occupied by keeping one another company in hotel sitting rooms as our parents frequented foreign nightspots until dawn. Sometimes I still thought fondly of our adventures together and of those long, comfortable conversations before the fire.
He blew out a puff of smoke. “I’ve traveled some. Kept busy.”
“I expect you enjoyed seeing more of the world. Do you remember the time we were in Egypt…”
He sat forward suddenly, grounding out his cigarette in the crystal ashtray on the table. “Look here, Amory. I might as well tell you why I’ve come.”
Years of practice in hiding my thoughts allowed me to keep my features from registering surprise at his sudden change of manner. “Certainly.”
He looked me in the eyes. “I’ve come to ask a favor.”
“Of course, Gil. I’d be happy to do anything…”
He held up a hand. “Hear me out before you say yes.” He was agitated about something, uneasy, so unlike his normally contained self.
He stood and walked to the window, gazing out at the green lawn that went on and on before it ended abruptly at the lake that marked the eastern boundary of the property.
I waited, knowing it would do little good to press him. Gil wouldn’t speak until he was ready. I wondered if perhaps he had come to ask me for money. The Trents were well-off, but the recent economic difficulties had been far-reaching, and more than a few of my friends had found themselves in very reduced circumstances. If that was the case, I would be only too happy to help.
“I don’t need money, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he said, his back still to me.
Despite the tension of the situation, I laughed. “Still reading my mind.”
He turned, regarding me with a solemn expression. “It’s not so hard to read your mind, but your eyes are harder to read than they used to be.”
“Concealment comes with practice,” I replied.
“Yes, I suppose it does.” He walked back to the sofa and sat down.
When he spoke, his tone had returned to normal. “Have you seen anything of Emmeline these past years?”
I wondered briefly if he had decided not to ask me the favor, reverting instead to polite conversation. Emmeline was Gil’s sister. She was younger than me by three years and away at school in France during much of our acquaintance, but we had been friends. After my engagement to Gil had ended, however, Emmeline and I had drifted apart.
“Once or twice at London affairs,” I answered.
“Was she … do you remember the chap she was with?”
I cast my mind back to the last society dinner at which I had seen Emmeline Trent. There had been a young man, handsome and charming, if I recalled correctly. Something about my memory of him nagged at me, and I tried to recall what it was.
“I remember him,” I said. “His name was Rupert something or other.”
“Rupert Howe, yes. She plans to marry him.”
I said nothing. There was more to come; that much was certain.
“He’s not a good sort, Amory. I’m sure of it.”
“That may be, Gil,” I said gently. “But, after all, Emmeline is a grown woman.” Emmeline would be twenty-three now, older than I had been when I married.
“It’s not like that, Amory. It isn’t just that I don’t like the fellow. It’s that I don’t trust him. There’s something … I don’t know…” His voice trailed off, and he looked up at me. “Emmeline has always liked you, looked up to you. I thought that, perhaps…”
Was this why he had come? I had no influence on Emmeline. “If she won’t listen to you,” I said, “whatever makes you think she will care what I have to say?”
He paused, and I could see that he was formulating his words, planning out what he would say. Gil had always been like that, careful to think before speaking. “There’s a large party going down to the south coast, a little village outside Brighton, tomorrow. Emmeline and Rupert and several other people I’m sure you know. We’ll be staying at the Brightwell Hotel for a week. I came to ask you if you would go on the pretext of a holiday.”
I was surprised at the invitation. I had not seen Gil in five years, and suddenly here he was, asking me to take a trip to the seaside. “I still don’t understand. What can I do, Gil? Why come to me?”
“I … Amory,” his eyes came up to mine, the brown flecks darker than they had been. “I want you to accompany me … to appear to be with me. You understand?”
I did understand him, just as easily as I once had. I saw just what he meant. I was to go with him to the seaside, to give the impression that I had left Milo. That my marriage had been a mistake. Emmeline had seen the society columns, the reports of my husband gallivanting across Europe without me; she would believe it.
I suddenly comprehended that there would be good reason for me to talk to Emmeline, how I would have authority when Gil didn’t.
Gil had said he didn’t trust Rupert Howe. I knew he was right. I knew Gil had seen in Rupert the same thing that had caught my attention when I had met him.
Emmeline’s Rupert had reminded me of Milo.
My decision was almost immediate. “I should be delighted to come,” I said. “I should like to keep Emmeline from making a mistake, if I possibly can.”
Gil smiled warmly, relief washing across his features, and I found myself returning the smile. The prospect of a week at the seaside in the company of old friends was not an unappealing one, at that.
Of course, had I known the mayhem that awaited, I would have been more reluctant to offer my services.
Copyright © 2014 by Ashley Weaver
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The characters, humor and wit make this an enchanting story! I can't wait until the next one is release,
Well-written main character intends to spend a seaside holiday deciding between her failing marriage and her former fiance, but finds herself entangled in a complicated murder investigation.
This was a good read. The seaside hotel descripted was inviting and the story line kept a nice pace. I don't like ot go into any detail of the plot, read the book
The story is good and the style is elegant yet inviting, pulling the reader into the tale with a wonderful cast of characters. Want more. Note to the copy editor: this elegant and erudite prose should not be marred by folksy grammatical errors. NOT "She was younger than me . . ." FILL IN THE MISSING/OMITTED VERB. "She was younger than I (was)."
Characters interesting. Twists and turns in story, unexpected ending.
I loved this story. The characters stayed true to themselves without betraying the ending which was very satisfying. A great job!
MURDER AT THE BRIGHTWELL focuses on well-to-do Amory Ames who, after five years seems to find herself in a less-than-satisfactory marriage with ne’er-do-well Milo. She agrees to accompany her former fiancé, Gil Trent, to a seaside resort in an effort to dissuade Gil’s sister Emmeline from marrying the disreputable Rupert Howe. As might be expected, shortly after their arrival at the resort Rupert meets an untimely end and, in short order, Gil is suspected of having done the deed. This, of course, prompts Amory to do a little sleuthing of her own. When Milo unexpectedly appears at the Brightwell, he and Amory form an uneasy alliance to clear Gil’s name. A second murder complicates matters, leaving Amory to ferret out the real murderer, keep herself from becoming the next victim, and, at the same time, decide if she and Milo will be able to repair their faltering marriage or if her heart truly belongs to another. The disparate cast of likely [and unlikely] suspects is an intriguing mix --- think Clue set in a luxurious hotel circa 1932. Add the genre’s requisite secrets, a hint or two of romance, and a perfect atmospheric setting; the result is a delightful cozy read.
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A fantastic game of clue as the reader follows wealthy Amory Ames as she puts herself into a love triangle on holiday where a murder occurs and she must help find out who the killer is - it was so good! With quite the cast of characters, I would suggest taking a few notes so as the book goes along you can refer back to them. I had a time with the couples and remembering their quirks! I absolutely loved this book. The twists and turns were perfectly timed and I loved the final outcome - the killer part at least. I am not sure I loved the outcome of the love triangle, but it didn't make me like the book any less.
I just found this series and loved it. It takes place in England in the 30's. Amory Ames is asked by an ex-boyfriend for help. She goes to a resort on the coast and gets involved in a murder mystery The themes of the affluent during this time period are interesting. Amory does some of this sleuthing with her husband, Milo. This book was reminiscent of Nick and Nora from the Thin Man series but with a more modern way of writing, i.e. being more accessible and easier to read. I will definitely be searching out the next book in the series
Enjoyed the characters and plot development. Hard to put down! Will definitely follow this author!
Interesting characters. Some parts of the story was slow, but overall good plot and likeable heroine. I'll look for additional books by this author.
Ms. Weaver has written a tremendously good first novel! Though she is from Louisiana she has nailed the Brits very well. It was a good mix between murder, intrigue and romance. The heroine is Amory Ames, a young socialite. She has been married to Milo Ames, a charming playboy, for five years and things aren’t working out so well. She stays at home while he goes to the continent and has a good time. Then her life gets turned upside down by the request from her former fiancé, Gil Trent, asks her to go to the Brightwell Hotel on the coast to try to avert his sister from marrying a charming playboy. Milo comes home early from Monte Carlo and finds her going to the Brightwell. He shows up later and all kinds of things happen: 2 murders, a suicide attempt, and Amory herself is drugged in her own room. All the while she is wondering if her marriage is over. How this all plays out is very fun to observe. The book takes place during the thirties, which is a time period I enjoy. This book is the first of the series and I highly recommend it. I’ve already started reading the 2nd book!
I really enjoyed this story. I definitely look forward to more books by this author.
First, let's be clear. This is NOT a Nick and Nora aka Thin Man story. The couple here does trade witty comments, but they are not heavy drinkers and their relationship is quite uncertain. This is also NOT an Agatha Christie style story. Unlike Christie, this author does not wait until the last moment to bring in lots of key information, nor does she have the plot depend on very unlikely circumstances allowing the killer(s) to accomplish his/her/their goal. (Although there is a touch of this, but not excessive.) The basic idea of two financially and socially well off people being married but having almost nothing to do with each other is a bit sad. But it sets up a useful tension when both the husband and the former fiance are interacting with her. Which way will she go? The murder victim is not a great loss. He was not liked by anyone, except the woman who was going to marry him. But was she fed up with his wandering eyes (and hands...)? It is a good read and a fine presentation of the period. The cover is well done.
A nice Agatha Christie-esque mystery. The story reminded me strongly of Evil Under the Sun, with murder on holiday. All told, Weaver paints a lovely picture of 30's England. I did find the narrator focusing a little too much on her relationship rather than the mystery at hand, and although it may have been intended, I liked Milo and found him far more interesting than Amory. But perhaps that's just me.
With a likeable heroine , a surprising ending, a nifty thirties atmosphere and witty dialogue; this debut novel is sure to please.
Seems uninteresting get back to the one paragraph "movie" type hype