Ashley Weaver’s novel Murder at the Brightwell makes it clear she’s a big fan of old movies and British mysteries. The book has an abundance of all the classic whodunit essentials: wealthy eccentrics, a fashionable setting, juicy scandal, witty repartee ... and murder.
The first installment in the Amory Ames mystery series Murder at the Brightwell takes place at a posh seaside English resort in the 1930s and is an Agatha Christie-esque nod to the golden age of cinema in the post-World War I years: sitting rooms for taking tea, ballrooms for dancing, outdoor terraces for socializing and gossiping.
“As a younger film fan, I enjoyed the elegance of 1930s films — the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire aesthetic — with women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos dancing the night away at beautiful nightclubs,” Weaver says. “As I grew older and learned more about the interwar period and the fine balance that existed between the social mores of the past century and the growing modernity of the new one, I was even more fascinated by the era.”
But it wasn’t until Weaver had a dream about a woman named Amory Ames that Murder at the Brightwell was born. “I knew right away who she was, where she fit, and how her story would unfold,” Weaver says.
Amory, the charming heroine and plucky amateur gumshoe of Brightwell, is a wealthy young woman who is questioning her marriage to her playboy husband, Milo. She accepts a request from her former fiancé, Gil Trent, to accompany him to the posh Brightwell resort because he is having doubts about her sister’s fiancé, never realizing her trip will embroil her in a murder investigation. Eager to prove the innocence of Trent, she embarks on some sleuthing of her own, to the chagrin of the local inspector as well as her husband, who becomes her de facto partner in crime, so to speak.
“Amory is a woman who is very aware of societal limitations, and she’s learned how to work within them to get things done,” Weaver says. “She has had to find the balance between going along with what is considered acceptable and pushing those boundaries and asserting her independence when she needs to. It’s been interesting for me to find that balance in writing her as well.”
Amory has her work cut out for her. There is a gaggle of murder suspects roaming the halls of the Brightwell who are as suspicious as they are delicious, such as Yvonne Roland, the “terror of London society”; the oafish Nelson Hamilton and his mousy wife, Larissa; and Lionel Blake, a rising star on the British stage, to name a few.
Adding some elegance to the mystery is Weaver’s careful attention to fashion, which, depending on the scene, has Amory in a fitted gown with flutter sleeves or a backless maillot overlayed with beach pajamas of flowing trousers and a loose crepe de chine jacket. Having long been a fan of 1930s movies and period television shows, the author says she had a “good base knowledge” of the era’s clothing trends, but “did some additional research as I wrote the book to flesh out the specific elements in the story. I absolutely love dressing Amory because she’s very fashionable and on trend. I always say it’s like writing myself an unlimited wardrobe budget!”
There is also a dash of romance, courtesy of the rakish Milo, who was to play a smaller role in the book and series, but Weaver says, “I had so much fun with [Amory and Milo] together that he won me over.”
Mystery novels, though, were what dazzled Weaver as a young avid reader. “I read Cam Jansen, the Bobbsey Twins, Encyclopedia Brown, and Nancy Drew,” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a puzzle that the reader can work to solve.”
Weaver has been writing since elementary school — her first book was a handwritten story with her own illustrations. “I distinctly remember the feeling of wonder I had when I realized that I could take ideas from my head and put them down on the page,” she says. “I’ve been writing ever since. Writing is always a refuge for me. It’s nice to be able to shape the course of events and solve problems — though most of the time the things my characters get into are much more dangerous and disturbing than anything I have to face in real life!”
When she’s not writing mysteries, Weaver, 36, works as a technical services coordinator for a library in Louisiana, where she has lived for the past 15 years, having moved there from Wisconsin. She has worked at a library ever since she was a freshman in high school, when she applied for an after-school job at her local library, figuring it would be a good way to earn some money doing something she enjoyed.
“I was a frequent visitor to the library anyway. Little did I know that it would turn into a career for me,” she says. “Not only do I love books, I love getting to share that love with other people. There’s nothing like finding a new favorite author for a library patron or reading to children and seeing their excitement about the story.”
In May, Weaver will premiere a new series. A Peculiar Combination, the first in the Electra (Ellie) McDonnell series, is also set in England but takes place during World War II. “I have been reading a lot of WWII nonfiction the past few years,” she says. “I read Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre, an excellent book about a British criminal who became a double agent. It made me think it would be interesting to examine the role of a woman who has lived outside the law her whole life but decides to use her unusual talents to defeat the enemy in wartime. And that’s how the idea for the Electra McDonnell series was born.”
Does this mean that Weaver is saying goodbye to Amory Ames?
“I still have some ideas for future Amory adventures,” she says, “but Ellie will be getting two books at this point, and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Hmmm ... the plot thickens.
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