"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.