"Murder Most Persuasive" by Tracy Kiely
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 293 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Third time's a charm for mystery novelist Tracy Kiely.
Yes, her first two novels featuring 28-year-old Washington, D.C., resident Elizabeth Parker (a Jane Austen enthusiast and newspaper fact-checker) have been above-average entertainments (see the reviews on this blog).
Yet, with this third, the author has landed in her groove. She puts on her sassy pants and puts a humorous edge on the proceedings.
That's much easier said than done, if you've ever endured a book or a person that has tried mightily to be amusing and has failed just as mightily.
Surely, Jane Austen commented on that subject, as on so many others.
Kiely also does well by her plot, which begins with the funeral of Elizabeth's great-uncle, a successful built-his-own-biz businessman who has resided in one of those Georgian-style Georgetown manses complete with iron fence and fanlight over the front double doors.
The great-uncle's fatal illness prompted the sale of another property, where a body is discovered during renovations by the new owners.
The corpse is identified as the (obviously) former fiance of the great-uncle's eldest daughter, Reggie, who is (obviously) Elizabeth's cousin. Suddenly, Reggie and her two younger sisters-- as well as other family members-- are under suspicion in the eight-year-old murder.
Those are the bare bones of a delightful mystery, replete with well-fashioned characters, including Elizabeth's Aunt Winnie, who figures prominently in Kiely's first mystery, "Murder at Longbourn."
One of the author's wisest moves is to include Elizabeth's own elder sister, Kit, as something of a rival in Elizabeth's efforts at amateur sleuthing.
Kit's personal philosophy appears to be, "I am the sunshine of my life, and yours, too."
She does make a mean Chicken Piccata, but she's as prone to feast on foot as often as fowl.
To wit, what's working well:
(1) Elizabeth vis a vis Kit, and vice versa;
(2) Aunt Winnie vis a vis everyone;
(3) The "Inside the Beltway" locales;
(4) The gooseberry-tart humor.
Elizabeth Parker's career trajectory may be increasingly unclear, but, hand her a mystery, and she's in her milieu-- a real Jane in the sass.
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