"Murder at Longbourn" by Tracy Kiely: Book Review

"Murder at Longbourn" by Tracy Kiely Minotaur, 308 pp., $24.99 Reviewed by David Marshall James Mystery novels are like apple pies: One expects basic elements in both, and one samples both with expectations of something good. Reading Tracy Kiely's debut mystery novel, "Murder at Longbourn," is much like sampling a tried-and-true apple pie recipe, done to perfection. The lead character, a still-in-her-twenties newspaper-newsroom drone from Virginia, Elizabeth Parker, winds up down on her romantic luck on New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, her roomie is off to New York with high hopes of corks popping and balls dropping. Indeed, she is soon-to-be-engaged, and Elizabeth is in on the surprise, having helped the guy in question choose the ring. Elizabeth's sister is ringing the phone off the hook, rattling off unsolicited dating advice and unappealing near-demands to toast in the New Year with her family. Ergo, Elizabeth's invitation to visit her great-aunt, Winnie Reynolds, at her Cape Cod B&B grows all the more tempting. Aunt Winnie has even organized a "murder party" to ring out the Old Year, as an entertainment for the dinner guests at her inn, Longbourn. As the clock ticks toward midnight, an actual murder occurs. Of course, the reader is well tuned into that probability, along with the identity of the probable victim. The reader also eventually gains a pretty good idea of who else might bite the dust, as this whodunit gathers momentum toward a most delectable finale. When Aunt Winnie emerges as the prime suspect (the deceased was making life difficult for her because he coveted Longbourn, which she bought out from under him), Elizabeth becomes quite the Nosey Parker regarding the solution of the murder, much to the annoyance of the lead detective on the case. However, mystery novels ought to be somewhat predictable. No one wants to read a Dali-esque mystery with preposterous personages and events, any more than one wants to discover Brussels sprouts in one's apple pie. Several outstanding elements elevate "Murder at Longourn" high above the average. First, the author possesses a refined gift for characterization. Leading the bunch, Elizabeth displays just the right combination of smart azz (as Aunt Winnie calls her) and foible-inclined righter of wrongs. This series ought to travel far on her capable shoulders. The fetching setting of Longbourn and its environs feels like the ideal place for the characters. Furthermore, the author displays ample dexterity in juggling the many plot chestnuts that she has inherited from the murder-mystery writers whom she emulates. Her placement of red herrings proves most impressive. Then, there is Elizabeth's obsession with all things Jane Austen. She has good taste, and "Murder at Longbourn" tastes good. * * *