Featuring a volatile married couple as sleuths, this new series is set right in the sweet spot of the Golden Age of Mystery—England in the 1930s.
Ashley Weaver’s Murder at the Brightwell was published in 2014 to critical acclaim and received an Edgar nomination for Best First Novel. Set in a seaside resort hotel in 1930s England, Murder at the Brightwell introduced readers to Amory Ames and her husband Milo. Both of them are young, intelligent and well-to-do, and Amory’s life should be as peaceful and untroubled as a sunlit field. But the raffish Milo is the thundercloud that darkens her days; his roving eye and wandering ways push Amory’s trust to the limit. When former beau Gil Trent asks Amory to visit the Brightwell Hotel to help him with a family problem, she encounters mayhem, murder—and Milo. His unexpected appearance at the Brightwell throws Amory for a loop, complicating her investigation.
Amory’s sleuthing digs up the secrets of her fellow guests and brings her face-to-face with a killer. It also shows the fault lines that run through her marriage. Will Amory leave her charming but unreliable husband for the stolid Gil? Weaver mixes a delightful cocktail of menace and manners with a dash of bitter romance.
This fall Amory returns in Death Wears a Mask. Two months after the events at the Brightwell Hotel, she and Milo have achieved a fragile détente. Amory’s sworn off detective work, but she can’t resist a friend’s request for help. The clever Mrs. Ames finds herself embroiled in high-society shenanigans that start with jewel theft and end in homicide. While searching for the murderer, Amory is pursued by the amorous Viscount Dunmore, whose colorful past and less-than-savory reputation precede him.
Death Wears a Mask is a worthy follow-up to Brightwell, offering lavish upper-crust locales for low-down activities. Amory Ames is a charmer, and her on-again/off-again relationship with Milo provides an underpinning of real sorrow to the stylish proceedings. Ashley Weaver lives in Oakdale, Louisiana, where she is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries. Earlier this year, Ashley and I had a chance to talk about books, libraries, her taste for the past, and her plans for the future.
Joseph Goodrich for Mystery Scene: When did you start writing? And why did you choose the mystery genre? Or did it choose you?
Ashley Weaver: For as long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve always loved mysteries, so I naturally gravitated toward them when I started writing. I like the idea of all the little pieces of the puzzle that make up the whole picture. I wrote my first “book” in elementary school, complete with my own illustrations. I believe it was a mystery, though I can’t remember the plot now. I wrote my first full-length novel in high school, a murder mystery with a romantic subplot set in Prohibition-era Chicago. I’ve ventured into other genres, but, no matter what I write, a mystery always manages to work its way into my plots. There’s no escaping it!
Mystery Scene: What prompted you to set your books in 1930s England?
Weaver: I’ve always claimed that I was born in the wrong era. I love the sophistication and elegance of the early decades of the 20th century. England in the 1930s kind of represents the Golden Age of mysteries to me. When I got the idea for Murder at the Brightwell, it seemed like the time and place were already predetermined.
Mystery Scene: It’s clear that you’re a fan of the classic mystery pioneered by writers such as Agatha Christie.
Weaver: I absolutely love her! The very first of her books that I read was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and it still ranks among my favorites. I also loved The Hollow and Five Little Pigs.
Mystery Scene: Other mystery favorites?
Weaver: I'm a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I’ve really enjoyed some of the hardboiled noir writers like Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain.
Mystery Scene: What kind of research did you do for Brightwell and Mask?
Weaver: Having enjoyed the novels and films of this era for many years, I feel I have a base knowledge of at least some elements of the era. At the start of each book, I usually gather enough information to set the scene, then I do additional research as the story develops. Being a librarian is very useful when it comes to research. I have a world of information at my fingertips.
Mystery Scene: Libraries have played a big role in your life.
Weaver: As a child, the library was always one of my favorite places to visit. I absolutely loved browsing the shelves and carefully selecting an armful of books that I could bring home—for free! When I was a freshman in high school, an after-school job became available at my local li- brary, and I decided to apply for it. At the time, I thought it would be a good way to make some spending money doing something I enjoyed. Little did I know that it would blossom into a career.
Mystery Scene: What’s next for Amory and Milo?
Weaver: I just finished the third book in the series, and the plans for book number four are beginning to take shape. I’m really enjoying exploring the way Amory and Milo’s relationship is developing as they solve mysteries in their high-society setting.
Mystery Scene: Ross Macdonald once said that he wasn’t his series character Lew Archer, but Lew Archer was definitely him. Along those lines, do you see any similarities between yourself and Amory Ames?
Weaver: I suppose there must be a little of me in Amory, but I don’t think we’re exceptionally similar in terms of personality. I do feel like I understand her very well, and I seldom feel conflicted about her motivations and behavior because I know instinctively how she responds to situations. We both enjoy mysteries, of course, but I wouldn’t be quite as reckless as she sometimes is when searching for clues. She’s a bit bolder and more decisive than I am. Perhaps she’s who I would be if I knew I could write myself out of dangerous situations.
Mystery Scene: Murder at the Brightwell was nominated for a Best First Novel Edgar. How did you learn about the nomination?
Weaver: I belong to a group of mystery writers called Sleuths in Time, and they were actually the first ones to tell me that I had been nominated. I was at work the morning of the nominations—I had no idea. It was a huge surprise, and I was, of course, ecstatic.
Mystery Scene: You came to New York City for the awards ceremony. Did you have a good time?
Weaver: I had a fabulous time! It was great to have the opportunity to interact with so many members of the mystery community. Everyone I met was absolutely lovely. And, as an avid mystery reader and librarian, it was an incredible experience to be in a room full of authors whose books I’ve read and seen on the library shelves for years.
Mystery Scene: One final question: Will Milo ever settle down?
Weaver: Milo will probably always have a bit of a wild streak, but he’s also starting to understand what’s required of him in order to make his marriage work. I doubt he’ll ever be perfectly well behaved—he wouldn’t be as entertaining if he was—but he’s growing as a person and as a husband, and readers can expect to see a different side of him in the future.
Joseph Goodrich is an Edgar-Award-winning playwright and the editor of Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950.