Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Review: Murder at the Brightwell
Murder at the Brightwell is a very good debut mystery set at a seaside resort in England in the 1930's. Amory Ames is unhappy in her marriage- her husband Milo comes and goes as he pleases, spending his time in exotic locales, and has quite a reputation as a philanderer. He has just returned from Monte Carlo, and Amory never knows how long he's staying or when he's leaving again. She sometimes wonders what life would have been like if she had married Gil Trent- the man she jilted for Milo five years earlier. Imagine her surprise when Gil shows up unexpectedly, looking for a favor. Gil asks her to accompany him to the Brightwell Hotel for a seaside jaunt- his sister will be there with her fiance Rupert Howe, whom Gil dislikes intensely. Gil wants Amory to pretend she is leaving Milo, and that his sister will see the light and realize that marrying Rupert would be a mistake. Amory, who is delighted to see Gil and furious at Milo, agrees- and the fun begins.
Amory and Gil arrive at the Brightwell and meet the rest of their party- and an interesting group it is. Amory dislikes Rupert almost immediately, along with several other members of the party, but the hotel is fabulous, the seaside location a welcome retreat from her boredom in the country. Amory is looking forward to a week at the Brightwell, in spite of the potential for scandal from her association with Gil. At the same time Amory is trying to sort out her feelings for Gil, and for her husband as well- does she leave Milo and and start over with Gil? Or does she stay with Milo and try to work things out? The matter is complicated when Milo arrives at the resort- and is complicated further when Rupert turns up dead!
Gil is immediately suspected by the police, and eventually arrested- he was overheard warning Rupert to stay away from his sister, and there is other incriminating evidence. Amory is shocked and dismayed, and sets out to prove Gil is innocent any way she can. Doing so however exposes her to danger as well- and when the body count rises she may have all she can do to survive her stay at the Brightwell.
I liked this book a lot, after a slightly slow start it took off for me once they arrived at the hotel. Amory is likable and smart, and doesn't take any guff. She butts heads with Inspector Jones, the investigator assigned to the case. He doesn't appreciate her asking questions and nosing around, but they develop a mutual respect as the story moves along. Their relationship and the way it develops was one of the highlights of the story for me. I didn't care for Milo very much, although he did grow on me a bit as he helps amory solve the case. Amory spends much of her time trying to sort out her feelings for Gil and Milo and you're never really sure until the end which way she's going to go. I had a definite opinion on who I preferred but you can make an argument either way.
The hotel itself is almost a character here, with its pastel colors and art deco vibe. I loved the descriptions of it, I could almost picture the sitting room and terraces. This is billed as a Christie- esque 1930's romp on the cover, and I think that's pretty apt. There are a ton of red herrings and I had my suspicions several times as to the killer, but in the end I was surprised. The end itself is a bit cliched, with a storm and power outage and surprise, the killer shows up- but I really liked this book and it's probably one of my favorites of the year. I had a great time at the Brightwell, in spite of the murders!