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Authors: Tracy Kiely

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Cozy, #General

Murder Most Austen

BOOK: Murder Most Austen
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CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

About the Author

 

The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:
us.macmillanusa.com/piracy
.

 

To my grandmother, Winifred Tracy Shanahan, the original Aunt Winnie

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

O
NCE AGAIN,
I
find myself in the unbelievably lucky position of being able to publicly thank the many people who helped me bring this book to completion. Their input always makes my work better. Barbara Kiely and Terry Mullin-Sweeney kindly read early versions of the book and offered many valuable suggestions. Toni Plummer’s edits always make my books stronger, and Cynthia Merman’s copyediting skills are second to none. Barbara Poelle’s inspiration and guidance have been enormously helpful. I’d also like to thank Bridget Kiely, Ann Mahoney, Mary Ann Kingsley, Sophie Littlefield, and all the Bunco ladies for their continued moral support. And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank my husband, Matt, and our children, Jack, Elizabeth, and Pat, for helping me keep everything in perspective when it all gets a bit crazy.

 

CHAPTER 1

There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.

—PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

I
F I HAD KNOWN
that someone was going to kill the man sitting in 4B three days hence, I probably wouldn’t have fantasized about doing the deed myself.

Probably.

However, as it stood, I didn’t have this knowledge. The only knowledge I
did
have was that he was a pompous ass and had not stopped talking once in the last two hours.

“Of course, only the truly clever reader can discern that it is beneath Austen’s superficial stories that the
real
narrative lies. Hidden beneath an attractive veil of Indian muslin, Austen presents a much darker world. It is a sordid world of sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, abortions, and incest. It is in highlighting these darker stories to the less perceptive reader that I have devoted my career,” the man was now saying to his seatmate.

I guessed him to be in his late fifties. He was tall and fair, with those WASPy good looks that lend themselves well to exclusive men’s clubs, the kinds that still exclude women and other dangerous minorities. His theories were so patently absurd that at first I’d found his commentary oddly entertaining. However, as Austen herself observed, of some delights, a little goes a long way.

This was rapidly becoming one of those delights.

From the manner in which the young woman to his right gazed at him with undisguised awe, it was clear that she did not share my desire to duct-tape his mouth shut. Her brown eyes were not rolling back into her head with exasperation; rather, they were practically sparkling with idolization from behind her wire-framed glasses. While both our faces were flushed from his words, the cause for the heightened color on her elfin features stemmed from reverence; the cause of mine was near-boiling irritation.

I closed my eyes and tried to drown out their conversation by thinking happier thoughts. After all, I was on a plane—and not just any plane, mind you, but a British Airways flight headed to London. London! From there I was headed to Bath to attend the Jane Austen Festival. A week-long celebration of all things Jane, and attended by Janeites from all over the world. For an Anglophile like me, this was about as close to nirvana as one could get. I tried to think of scones heaped with clotted cream, red telephone boxes, gorgeous accents, and the off chance that I might spy Colin Firth—anything to distract myself from the man in 4B.

And yet, I could not.

“Now I grant you that mine is a special talent,” he droned on. “It is not everyone who can unravel the secret messages—the ciphers, if you will—that are embedded in each of her works. In fact, it could be said that I am the Rosetta stone of Austen.”

I wondered how much trouble I would get in if I threw my shoe at his head.

Next to me, my aunt Winnie shifted in her seat and cast an idle glance in the man’s direction before turning to me. “Is it morning already?” she asked, stretching her arms out in front of her.

“No,” I said, checking my watch. “It’s still the middle of the night.”

Her eyes sought out the man again as if perplexed. “But the cock’s crowing.”

“Oh, well, in that case,” I said agreeably, “it’s been morning for a long, long time now.”

“Well, I just think it’s amazing,” the young woman said now. “I studied Austen as an undergrad and no one ever even
hinted
at these other stories. Although some of my professors discussed the moral teachings found in her works, they mainly focused on her social satire. I never saw any of the
intended
stories until your class. I mean, I never realized that in
Persuasion,
Sir Walter Elliot’s relationship with his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was incestuous, or that in
Sense and Sensibility,
Marianne Dashwood’s illness was really the result of a botched
abortion
until you pointed it out.” She beamed obsequiously at him.

I tried to remember if I’d ever treated any of my professors with such a groveling display of worship. Hmmm. Let me think.

Nope.

Granted, I’d liked and respected a great number of them, but I hadn’t had any crushes on any of them. Then again, I’d attended an all-girls Catholic school, largely taught by the Sisters of Notre-Dame, so that last part probably isn’t too surprising. I might be somewhat jaded at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, but witnessing this dual display of academic love—for this fool of a man—did not arouse even a minuscule atom of regret at this apparent gap in my academic career.

The man nodded sagely at his seatmate. “I’m not surprised. Unfortunately, most of today’s English professors—and I use that term very loosely—are completely ignorant of Austen’s true objective.”

I gave up trying to ignore them, shifted in my seat, and craned my neck to look for the flight attendant. If I was going to be forced to listen to this drivel, I needed a drink. A Chardonnay drink. Aunt Winnie saw my movement and easily divined my intention. “Order me one, too, sweetheart,” she said.

“Already on it,” I replied.

The man continued. “They have interpreted her works in a manner appropriate to what they believe a spinster writing during the Regency period intended. While they view her works as containing
some
biting satire, they don’t grasp the whole picture! But, as I have diligently maintained,
that
is the true beauty of Austen’s work. She was subverting society’s precious rules all the while pretending to live by them. She described life as it really was—rough, extremely sexual, and, at times, evil and dark. She dressed it up and let the dull see what they wanted and hoped that the astute reader—a reader like myself—would see it for what it was: a forceful condemnation of the sanctimonious hypocrisy of both society and the church.”

Honestly, it was beginning to amount to auditory torture. It almost made me yearn for a teething baby or gassy seatmate. And besides, wasn’t this technically a form of assault? Because that’s what this boiled down to—assault with an unwanted opinion. And just where the hell was the flight attendant?

“It’s all very exciting,” the women murmured. “Your discoveries will not only revolutionize how Jane Austen’s work is viewed, but how that whole period of literature is viewed.”

“Yes, they will,” he agreed without modesty. “And I anticipate that after I deliver my latest paper, I will also revolutionize people’s views on how her life was
lived.

“Do you have a copy with you?” she asked, her voice hopeful. “I’d love to read it, if I may.”

He dipped his sleek head condescendingly. “I’m sure you would, but unfortunately I don’t have it with me. My assistant, Byron, is putting the finishing touches on it. He’s already in London tweaking it. We’re to finalize the details tomorrow. Perhaps I could show it to you then.”

The young woman was silent for a moment. “I see. Of course. Is, um, your wife coming as well?”

He gave a slight nod. “She is. She flew out yesterday.”

The woman’s eyes fell to her lap in obvious disappointment, but she said nothing. If the man noticed, he didn’t let on. “Tell me, Lindsay,” he said, “what did you think of my last lecture, where I detailed how Austen’s works, when taken in total, are really a kind of early manifesto for the ideals of communism?”

I glanced down at my shoes. No thick boots here, only ballet flats. Even if I threw them really hard, they wouldn’t be able to inflict any real damage. I sighed.

“I loved it, of course,” the woman answered immediately. “But do you really believe that Austen herself was an atheist?” There was the barest suggestion of doubt now lurking in those adoring brown eyes.

“Believe it? I defy you to prove otherwise! How else do you explain a character like Mr. Collins? He was a pompous, silly egomaniac,” was his assured reply.

“There appears to be a lot of that going around,” Aunt Winnie said in hearty agreement. She made no attempt to modulate her voice. But to be fair, Aunt Winnie has never been a huge proponent of modulation, whether in voice, appearance, or opinion. One needs only to see her curly red hair and bright green eyes—both of which have intensified in color over the years thanks to Clairol and colored contacts—to deduce that. She is the personification of Tallulah Bankhead’s observation, “I’m the foe of moderation, the champion of excess.”

Not surprisingly, both the man and the woman turned our way. Aunt Winnie smiled brightly at them. I knew that smile well. It combined all the warmth of Machiavelli with the subtlety of the Cheshire Cat. It also signaled to those who knew her well that it was—as she herself put it—“on like Donkey Kong.” I gestured again—a little more impatiently now—for the flight attendant to bring the drinks cart.

The man’s full lips drew back into a condescending smile; his teeth were very large and very white. “I take it that you don’t concur with my views on Austen,” he purred silkily. Next to him, the young woman blinked with owl-like alertness.

“I most certainly do not,” Aunt Winnie replied with the cool politeness of a society matron. She then ruined the effect by adding, “In fact, I think they are utter bullshit.”

“No, no, I completely understand,” he continued with a patronizing air. “Many women—especially women of a ‘certain generation’—find my discoveries to be somewhat off-putting.”

“Stewardess!” I called out, it having now become paramount that I get her attention if I was going to prevent Aunt Winnie from physically demonstrating just what she did and didn’t find off-putting.

Aunt Winnie leaned forward. “Women of a certain generation? Are you suggesting that women of ‘my generation,’ as you so clumsily put it, are unable to discern reality from perversion?”

Thankfully, the flight attendant arrived, providing a momentary diversion, and no doubt preventing Aunt Winnie from throwing
her
shoes at the man. And as
they
were three-inch platforms, they might have actually done some damage. “May I help you?” the flight attendant politely inquired.

“I certainly hope so,” I muttered to myself.

Her round face pulled in confusion. “Sorry?”

“I’d like to order a drink, please—” I began, but the man in 4B cut me off.

“I fear I may have offended you,” he said. “Please let me offer the proverbial olive branch and order us all a glass of champagne.” Before any of us could answer, he addressed the flight attendant. “Four champagnes, please. Your very best, of course.”

“We only have the one kind,” she replied.

“Well, nevertheless, put it on my tab,” he replied with a lofty wave of his manicured hand. I noticed he was wearing a gold pinkie ring. It suited him.

“It’s complimentary, sir,” she said and briskly strode to the kitchen area to ready the drinks.

BOOK: Murder Most Austen
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