You May Now Kill the Bride book coverMurder Can Muss your Matrimony

Author: Deborah Donnelly

Getting in the mode for all things bride, thanks to my own pending nuptials, and ever ready for another cozy mystery to ease me through the blustry winter months ahead, I turned to Deborah Donnell’s You May Now Kill the Bride which found its way to me in a mystery eBay book lot. The fifth book in the Carnegie Kincaid Wedding Planner Mysteries, which has the acclaim of a Hallmark original movie, You May Now Kill the Bride goes off location, temporarily abandoning Carnegie’s houseboat in favor of lavender sprinkled San Juan Island. In this bucolic tropical paradise, Carnegie is recovering from a bad relationship while weaving the wedding of her best friend, Lily’s, dreams.

Meanwhile, with all the glory of an upcoming bash and jittery best friend confidentials, love lorn Carnegie meets her mother’s wealthy boyfriend, soon to be fiancé, for the first time. Staying in the house with the happy couple is less than ideal when Carnegie meets her new step-sisters, both of whom have serious axes to grind. A further complication: when the body of dashing and flirtatious house manager Owen Baron is discovered by Carnegie, she has strong evidence leading her to suspect her new family-to-be.

Fighting against circumstance and police interrogation, Carnegie has to keep everything together, sussing out the murderer before he or she destroys all living evidence, while making sure that Lily’s purple infused bridal bash is the romantic epicenter of a lifetime. Meanwhile, old exes are in town and Carnegie’s hidden emotions are bubbling over with hurt, longing, and confusion. Can Carnegie keep the wedding on schedule, clear herself from the suspect list, stop a killer, and find love in time? What if her own nosing around leads to direct danger for her friends and family? Will a vengeful killer turn into a wedding stopper?

Starting off with the woozy aura of all mid-grade cozy mysteries, the story takes us straight to Carnegie’s beloved house boat, water gently lapping its sides, and a visit from her excited bestie. Giving up house boat time is hardly easy, especially when Carnegie is apparently still frayed from a prior mystery and the very literal scars it left on her ex. But friendship is friendship and the best gift Carnegie can give is the use of her estimable skills as a well-known wedding planner. Beginning her journey to scope out the island, spend some mom time, and finalize those last little arrangements, Carnegie’s forced happiness soon goes down the drain. Meeting her mom’s new husband with his snappish humor and evil daughters is bad enough, but when the bodies start piling up Carnegie has to choose between detective duty and crafting the perfect wedding. Add on some cranky, bigoted island people, a suspicious “organic” lavender farm, a dashing detective with a penchant for underhanded snooping techniques, and a visit from the past and you have the perfect party pooper.

Luckily, this is prime cozy mystery land and despite the death, despair, and traumas that are inflicted on the characters, the fairly serious mystery still has that upbeat, cozy charm. What’s surprising is that the wedding and its associated planning aren’t that essential to the book. Maybe a handful of pages has some wedding chatter, but Carnegie mostly neglects her best friend’s big day in favor of stopping murder and also clearing herself before she ends up cooling her heals in the slammer. This puts the focus more on the mystery itself, something cozy mysteries tend to forget, and gives Donnelly’s writing a weightier tint. This is all to the better and the mystery loving reader scents the perfect bookish quarry.

However, in true cozy mystery fashion it’s all very incidental and fuzzy around the edges. Carnegie spends more time almost investigating and thinking about how she could investigate than actually following clues, old-school gumshoe style. The plot plods (no surprise in a cozy and not even necessarily a problem) and things eventually happen in such a way that the answer makes itself known, leading up to a very tense confrontation-with-the-killer-near-death-scenario. What’s missing here is the buildup, due to the looseness of the investigation. There’s little time spent on weddings, much time spent on bemoaning Carnegie’s old relationship, and a lot of time looking at inconsequential how-should-I-research-this-thing details that make a lot of chapters and pages feel non-essential and, well, fluffy. Likewise, the cozy atmosphere could definitely be cranked a bit more and would nicely fill in these gaps.

Since this is the fifth book, but my first encounter, characterization was presumably already established. Maybe that’s why Carnegie felt like the only character, those around her mostly props to drive events. The ex-boyfriend with the undisclosed reference to the previous book (or books?) and the best friend are more there for drama’s sake. They don’t feel real and while Carnegie certainly does, it’s hard for a character to carry a whole book in isolation, especially a cozy which gets a lot of its verve from the character’s interaction with others.

Nevertheless, while less than perfect, You May Now Kill the Bride had some tense moments and a bang-up confrontation that thankfully covers for the otherwise loosely tied set of finale answers. For a cozy, it’s actually quite good, and it has served to make me curious about Donnelly’s other works. Recommended.

–        Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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