Killing Jane Austen (A Honey Driver Mystery) by Jean G Goodhind

Note: I have not cited page numbers because in this on-line text, there are only pages within chapters.

As often happens, even when certain authorial decisions annoyed me in this text, I kept reading. When Goodhind abandons subtlety, saying, for instance, that Steve Doherty is a detective inspector with “laconic good looks and sexual promise,” I bristled at the lack of delicacy, but I also wanted to know what was going to happen with him and our protagonist. Honey Driver is a Bath hotelier who “double[s] as Crime Liaison Officer on behalf of the Hotels Association.” Honey, her mother Gloria, and her daughter Lindsey are slated to be film extras on “yet another historical production . . . being filmed in Bath.” In a cute moment, Gloria tells Honey to take an afternoon nap, adding that “Audrey Hepburn used to take an afternoon nap every day” and “that’s what kept her eyes so bright.” Mary Jane, a “resident professor of the paranormal” (what?), says no, and thinks Sir Cedric, who died “back in 1792,” comes to visit her occasionally. She graduated from what this writer says, is a “college catering in that one subject, which was located in California—where else?” Bristling, I continued to read.

I continued reading even when it became clear that Honey is no fan of Jane Austen. Why would anyone who loves JA call her “the most famous spinster ever to write romantic fiction”? Even if she doesn’t love JA, I couldn’t quite figure out why Honey calls her “a professional busybody.” Honey doesn’t really seem familiar with Austen’s work. Very few people here seem to be. Though Goodhind says so, I think it unlikely that a person who reads “a lot of Jane Austen” as Miss Cleveley does, would claim that Austen’s “pen created the greatest romantic novels ever written,” since the belief among us is that the novels transcend romance and deal profoundly and wittily with all human relationships.

I continued reading when the language’s awkwardness irritated me, too. After a quick elevator ride, “Up they went. Smooth, real smooth.” Unlike the language here. Bodyguards are called “two sides of beef in tuxedos.” A man goes “off on a thought marathon.” The similes are awkward, too, such as here: “a blue silk skirt, a slim sheath of a thing that rasped against her legs like surf against shingle.” In a case of faulty parallelism, a cafe “had the right ambience, the right food, and was situated in a cobbled courtyard not far from Bath Abbey.” When Steve comments that “stuffing is a task close” to his heart, Honey may not “respond to the sexual innuendo,” but our narrator sure does: “it just wasn’t in her this morning.” This is not clever language a la Austen. Martyna Manderley, playing JA in this film, is rumored to be “a right bitch” (which certainly seems accurate when she accuses Honey, who just made a call to work, of “taking a photograph for some shitty little tabloid, you sneaky bitch”). Martyna is engaged to Brett Coleridge, and with him she changes from “snapping turtle” (that seemed to me unfair to turtles: do they snap?) to “purring pussy cat.” She wants him because he is rich and “sexually adventurous.” (She’s also, by the way, disrespectful to Austen, saying her “legs were superglued together”). But don’t feel too sorry for him: when we first see him, he’s “in bed, sandwiched between a blonde and a brunette.”

There are a lot of characters to dislike in this novel, and Goodhind successfully casts all of them in suspicious lights when the murders begin. We get in the head of the director, Boris Morris, who is unhappy with his position but knows that lecturing at UCLA would mean “he’d never get to direct such a plum project and a big star ever again.” Gloria is busy flirting with “an elderly gentleman wearing a frock coat and a pale green topper” while Honey encounters a “scruffy man” she soon recognizes as Casper St John Gervais, Chairman of Bath Hotels Association. To escape the cold, she enters a “brightly lit house” where a production meeting is about to begin, that is, until a young woman with eyes “glazed with horror” announces that Martyna has been stabbed and is dead. Honey is an immediate suspect both because of her unpleasant interaction with the mean actress earlier and because she is holding the script with sticky fingerprints. She doesn’t seem too concerned, though, perhaps because she knows Doherty, aforementioned man of “sexual promise,” will be handling the case. She tells him that the victim was “paranoid and greedy,” that it is no surprise “someone bumped her off,” but that all Honey did “was pick up a bloodstained manuscript.” As a result of this relationship, the woman once held as the primary suspect is, within minutes, snooping around the dead movie star’s trailer, doing “a few poses in front of the mirror.” Honey is disrespectful, too, suggesting Martyna was killed because people “were sick to the back teeth with Jane Austen” in which case she “sympathize[s].” Her snooping leads her to realize that, because of the position, the man in the catering truck may have seen something worth investigating. Dick Richards (really?) seems more concerned with celebrity praise (of his flapjacks and Thai curry beefburgers) than with celebrity death, but maybe Honey is on to something nonetheless. She learns that Penelope Petrie (I kept reading, despite these ridiculous names) “jumped at the chance” to replace the leading lady, which appalls even Honey. Honey’s motive, though, for getting the scoop, rather appalled me: she just wants to “beat Steve Doherty to an arrest.” Even our protagonist, I had a little trouble liking.

She’s still better than Martyna, however. In fact, solving this crime is tricky because it seems no one liked the victim, and many people had reason to get rid of her. The boyfriend looks guilty to Honey until Steve explains that the guilt is from cheating, not from killing. The narrator tells us that Borris Morris looks “decidedly shifty.” That either leaves no room for judgment for us or misleads us with faulty Honey assessment. The same happens with Penelope. Is her voice actually “an itsy bit contrived,” or is Honey assessing—possibly correctly, but possibly not—based on her own preconceptions? Penelope, we soon learn, has slept her way to this part and feels no sadness over the “right cow” who “got her just deserts.” Miss Cleveley reappears, supposedly seeking her niece, Perdita (of course she’s lost, with a name like that; how Shakespearean) Moody (is that name, too, a reflection of character?). She has been seen carrying a hatpin—the one she said shouldn’t be in a JA movie? The one that killed Martyna? A new character, Hans Hoffner, seems disturbing, with eyes “a chill blue like icy water reflected in the sky.” He scares Coleridge, which isn’t a good sign, and Coleridge desperately wants to keep “Hoffner on board” as the “main backer for the Jane Austen film.” Another new character appears shortly thereafter: Candy, who gets “hired to trap the rich and famous” (and who, incidentally, eats a lot of candy the first time we meet her, which I found annoying, rather than clever).

There are many moments in the text that don’t immediately make sense. A hotel owner, for instance, signs a petition to get rid of films in Bath when clearly films fuel tourism. The petition lady comments on the high “quality of the food they served on the film set” when the food is terrible. She’s a historical expert and comments on the irony that the star died from a stab by a hatpin that would have been an anachronism if used in the film. She later calls Mr. Brett and threatens him with revenge without even telling him who she is. Brett and his friends are all dressed up as women, and the call leads to Brett lashing out at his buddy Nigel. Why? Why do a mother and daughter share a corset they both use to lure men to their beds? If Borris is the murderer, why would he risk getting so drunk in a public place where he might accidentally reveal too much? And the catering situation is bizarre—and thus potentially suspicious as well. The guy claiming to be Dick is actually Ted, then Dick shows up, and then Ted returns, saying he made Dick an offer, which Dick quickly accepted since Ted is “more original” and “getting all the praise” (for his disgusting combinations of food items). Are you following all this? In terms of research, our team is a little lacking. Honey thinks the name of the film company is Banana Productions based on a tip from “Boring Bernard” and does no research—even a quick google search—on it. Then Doherty offends the director and says nothing to calm his nerves before sending him driving off.

Honey decides she wants to solve the murder and find Perdita. To do so, she has some bizarre encounters, such as one in which she advises a prostitute how to look like a “business woman of discreet and particular taste” in exchange for possible assistance finding the lost girl. Perdita is not quite what we, or Honey, expect but does provide some interesting information about the relationship between Martyna and her fiancé. Perdita’s aunt is slightly less shocking in her admission of her relationship with her sister’s husband and her suggestion of Martyna’s real passion. Apparently Martyna was at least close to her “senior make-up technician.”

The plot thickens when John Rees, a good-looking, “bookish” American, calls to spend time with Honey. John Rees seems sweet enough, sharing his breakfast with Honey and then asking her if they can plan to “trade food again at lunchtime,” but then he isn’t as reliable as we or Honey would like, flaking on plans for coffee and vaguely promising to “catch up with” her again. So he’s suspicious—he shows up just in time for murder #2 and then disappears. That plot thread is completely dropped, however. Fast on his heels, Miss Cleveley turns out to be surprisingly “firmly muscled,” which suggests she, too, could have done the dread deed.

The story jumps around a lot, even mid-chapter, but I continued to read because I was curious how this would all get sorted out. We jump from Honey’s date to Nigel’s beating to Honey’s discussion with an actuary about the insurance Banana Productions Ltd has for its stars and extras. When a trailer crashes to the ground, Honey is even more convinced there is foul play still at work. The first actual scene of violence is disturbing. This Mr. North person is a mystery to us, but he’s angry and wants results. He does not react well to not getting them. The question, still, is what this has to do with Martyna’s murder. How does Ted know the pillows inside Martyna’s trailer are “lace-trimmed”? Later, when the Dutch tourists compliment the “pretty lace trim around the pillowcases” at the Green River Hotel, I knew something was up, but it was never clear what the link was. Also not entirely clear (I got it down to two choices, but the language is ambiguous) is who is Mr. North, and he isn’t the only character to have two different names. Catching the murderer ends up being quite a theatrical, actually amusing scene, with some fear tossed in. The reasons for the murder are ridiculous, but the other characters don’t seem to find them so. Confusing loose ends would be annoying at the end of any mystery, but truly baffling to me was how Steve—or any person—can have navy eyes. Maybe that gets explained in another Honey Driver story.

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Published in: on February 1, 2015 at 9:59 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This story sounds awful – a big waste of reading time. The title is terrible. And your comments clinched the deal for me. I’m definitely not going to read it.

    It doesn’t deserve to be even “related” to Jane Austen books!!

    Hi Natasha. Thanks for the review.

    Barbara

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. I do not want to read this book.


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