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Murder at the Brightwell (Minotaur), by Ashley Weaver

At the heart of this light, energetic tale of a group of wealthy eccentrics on holiday at a seaside resort in England emerges a story of a marriage. Yes, there s a juicy scandal, snobbish comments and petty disagreements among people of a certain class feeling carefree and insular in 1932 Kent. It s all very Downton Abbey.

But Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver also proves to be an insightful look at a marriage that started with a strong, physical attraction and now has frayed because neither Amory Ames nor her husband, Milo, has figured out how to communicate.

Their courtship was a whirlwind, but now, after five years of marriage, Amory s feelings have shifted because Milo is seldom at their estate in Kent. She loves and hates in equal proportions her often absent husband. Milo s unexpected homecoming, after spending two months in Monte Carlo, has only worsened Amory s feelings, especially since the society papers often photographed him with other women. Amory sees a reprieve when former fiance Gil Trent asks her to join him and other friends for a week at the Brightwell Hotel. Gil, whom Amory jilted for Milo, has an ulterior motive. Gil doesn t trust the man that his younger sister, Emmeline, loves. He s not a good sort, Gil says. Gil believes that if Emmeline can see how unhappy Amory is married to a similar kind of man, his sister will break off the engagement.

But complications quickly arise when a guest is murdered and a second death is suspicious. Then Milo shows up, seeming to want to rekindle his marriage.

Weaver lays the foundation for a solid series in her first novel as she channels the ambience and spirit of British society during the post-World War I years. She keeps Murder at the Brightwell moving at a lively pace with clever twists, droll humor and odd, but believable characters. Amory s transition to an amateur sleuth is skillfully woven into the plot. Although she is wealthy, Amory is dissatisfied with her life and marriage and needs to feel useful. Milo s appearance at the Brightwell is, at first, unwelcome, but when the two team up to try to find the murderer, they find a lost spark, and Amory begins to respect Milo.

In this kickoff to a new series, Weaver isn t done with this couple, and there is a subtle suggestion that there is more to uncover about Amory and Milo.

And if there s a bit of the Downton Abbey atmosphere pervading Murder at the Brightwell, well, that s not a bad thing.


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