Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. In the US, this time of year is wedding season. What’s interesting about weddings is that they bring together all sorts of disparate people. There’s often quite a lot of tension, too, even when the wedding goes smoothly, and even when everyone has a wonderful time. So it just seemed like a good idea to take a look at what happens when things don’t go smoothly, and people don’t have a wonderful time. Let’s turn today’s spotlight on Marla Cooper’s Terror in Taffeta.
San Francisco-based wedding planner Kelsey McKenna has been hired to take charge of a destination wedding, held in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. The bride, Nicole Abernethy, and her groom, Vince Moreno, are pleasant to work with, and everything’s gone smoothly so far. Nicole’s exacting, rude, and snobbish mother, Mrs. Abernethy, is the only fly in the proverbial ointment; but so far, Kelsey’s been able to remain professional.
Just at the end of the ceremony, one of the bridesmaids, Dana Poole, collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. As soon as the police determine that Dana’s death was not an accident, they begin to investigate. It’s not long before they settle on the bride’s sister Zoe as their suspect. And there is evidence to support that theory. For one thing, she and Dana had been overheard arguing, and it was known they weren’t exactly friends. For another, the poison used to commit the murder was found in Zoe’s room.
Mrs. Abernethy insists that Kelsey fix the problem, even claiming that it’s part of her job. And Kelsey can use the money from this job. What’s more, she doesn’t believe that Zoe is guilty, and she can’t bring herself to leave the job with an innocent person in prison. So she starts to ask some questions.
It’s not long before Kelsey discovers that several people could have wanted to kill the victim, including the best man and one of the other bridesmaids. The police are neither corrupt nor incompetent, but they do believe they have the right person. And they aren’t interested in an amateur getting involved. Besides, as Kelsey soon learns, amateur detecting puts the sleuth in danger.
With her next wedding coming up in a couple of weeks, an innocent person in prison, and the bride’s mother furious that things have gone so wrong, Kelsey and her photographer, Brody Marx, don’t have a lot of time to waste. In the end, though, they find out who killed Dana Poole and why.
The big event in this novel is, of course, a wedding. So readers learn a bit about what the wedding planning business is like. Kelsey has a rather upmarket business, and she has a good reputation. Her specialty is unique weddings that really reflect the personality of the couple getting married. So readers get to see how wedding planners work with prospective clients, provide quotes, make plans, and engineer everything in the background.
Most of the action takes place in San Miguel de Allende, and Cooper places the reader there in several ways. The scenery, the food, and so on all reflect this colonial-era town. Some of the language does, too, but readers who don’t speak Spanish need not fear: neither does Kelsey – not really. So the Spanish words that are used are either very clear from context, or are clarified.
This is a light mystery, which most readers would probably classify as a cosy. The violence is minimal and the profanity is kept to a minimum as well. And yet, Cooper doesn’t make light of the fact that there’s been a murder, and that someone – probably an innocent someone – is in prison and very likely to stay there.
As is the case with many cosy mysteries, the protagonist is an amateur sleuth. In this instance, Kelsey is keenly aware of the fact that she’s a professional wedding planner, not a professional sleuth. She does feel a responsibility towards Zoe, and making sure she does the best job she can, but she’s not eager to ‘play Sherlock.’ And she is genuinely afraid when she does encounter danger. Since the story is told in first person from her point of view, readers get a good sense of her personality. She’s the sort of organized, intelligent, detail-oriented professional you’d expect, given she’s an upmarket wedding planner. She also has solid sense of wit:
‘When it comes to weddings, there are emergencies and then there are emergencies. Having a trio show up when you were expecting a quartet? Unfortunate, but salvageable…Wedding dress catching fire? Okay, I suppose that would be an emergency – but still nothing compared to what I was dealing with now.’
There are also several funny scenes in the novel.
A note is in order here about the relationship between Kelsey and Brody. No, they’re not a couple (Brody is, in fact, gay). But they’re very good friends and work well together. And they have the sort of trust that allows them to tease each other.
That said, though, this isn’t really a comic crime novel. Cooper doesn’t make light of the fact that this is a murder case in what for her is a foreign country, where people speak a language in which she and her client are not fluent. It’s a frightening prospect, and Cooper makes that clear.
The mystery itself involves a few plot twists, and the truth behind it takes some searching and ‘wrong turns.’ Readers who enjoy whodunits will appreciate this. It’s also worth noting that this is one of those books where we learn unequivocally who the killer was, and that person is caught. Readers who like the closure that comes from the ‘killer led away in handcuffs’ scene will appreciate this.
Terror in Taffeta is a light, very contemporary cosy that features a layered mystery, a picturesque setting, and a protagonist who’s facing a wedding planning challenge that she’d never imagined. But what’s your view? Have you read Terror in Taffeta? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 23 May/Tuesday, 24 May – Burial of the Dead – Michael Hogan
Tuesday, 31 May/Wednesday, 1 June – For the Love of Mike – Rhys Bowen
Monday, 6 June/Tuesday, 7 June – Total Chaos – Jean Claude Izzo